September 17, 2014

Manchin Delivers Senate Floor Speech Opposing Funding Syrian Opposition Forces

Senator Manchin also expresses opposition to CR vote that includes funding Syrian opposition forces

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today delivered remarks on the Senate floor outlining why he opposes funding, arming or training Syrian opposition forces. He also expressed opposition to voting for the Continuing Resolution if it includes a measure that will support the Syrian opposition forces.

Please read the full text of Senator Manchin’s remarks below.
M. President, I rise today to discuss the gravest and most important issue we can debate in congress.

I'm here today to talk about America's involvement in the Middle East and President Obama’s plan to defeat ISIS.

And make no mistake Mr. President, we must defeat and destroy ISIS. But how we destroy them is what we must get right.

I applaud the President for presenting a plan to the American people. I support air strikes against ISIS. I support providing humanitarian aid. I support cutting off terrorist funding sources. Doing these things has already helped prevent genocide and has begun to roll-back ISIS’ gains in Iraq.

I also support engaging the world community, but most importantly, Turkey and the Arab League nations.

Unfortunately, I have not seen signs from the region that tell me we have their full support.

M. President, this should be an Arab ground war and a U.S. air war. But I cannot and will not support arming or training the Syrian opposition force.

I did not come to this decision easily. I spoke with military and foreign policy experts, attended classified briefings and asked questions of the Administration.

But most importantly, I studied our history. We have been at war in that part of the world for the past 13 years. If money and military might could have made a difference, it would have by now.

In Iraq alone, we spent the better part of 8 years training a military of 280,000 at a cost of $20 billion to the American people. And the first time they had to step up and defend their country, their people and their lives, what did they do? They folded in the face of ISIS, abandoning their equipment and facilities to the enemy.

So I ask my colleagues and the President, why do we think that training Syrian rebels would turn out any differently?

M. President, the first principle of war is to know the enemy. And we certainly know our enemy. 

ISIS are barbaric terrorists with no respect for humanity and they deserve to die. I’ve seen the videos, and like every American I was disgusted and outraged.

But as important as it is to know your enemy, it is equally important to know our allies. And I am not confident that we know who are allies are.

To illustrate that point, I refer my colleagues to press reports that "moderate" Syrian opposition forces sold American journalist Steven Sotloff to ISIS, who beheaded him and put the video on the Internet.

Are those people our allies? Who are our other allies in this fight?

As of today, we have only hints of military support from Arab countries, who themselves face a greater threat from ISIS than anyone else.

M. President, Syria's neighbors have the technical ability and financial resources to support and train the Syrian opposition forces, if that is the correct course of action.

In the 1991 Iraq War, we had commitments from our allies around the world, but most importantly from the Arab community. 

I know that Secretary of State Kerry has been working tirelessly to build a similar coalition and recruit support from Iraq’s neighbors. Because it’s their neighborhood, and theirs to defend. And I hope it is successful because, as our intelligence community has said repeatedly, ISIS could soon become a direct threat to the United States.

But I strongly believe that if our military arms and trains Syrian rebels, we will be involving ourselves in a ground conflict we cannot resolve, where potentially everyone involved is our enemy.

To my mind, the reasons NOT to arm Syrian rebels TODAY are clear: 

First, the weapons we give to “moderate opposition” may not remain in their hands.  If my colleagues have seen the videos of ISIS shipping Iraqi Army Humvees and MRAPs out of Iraq, they will understand what I mean.

Second, I have seen no evidence that the Syrian rebels we plan to train and arm will remain committed to American goals or interests.  The vast majority of national-level Syrian rebel groups are Islamists, none of whom are interested in allying with the United States, and none of whom we should be associating with.  Further, the opposition fighters that we will train care more about overthrowing Assad than they do about defeating ISIS.  Assad is evil, but he is not a threat to America.  If the “moderate opposition” have to choose between defeating Assad and defeating ISIS, why do we believe they’ll choose our priority over theirs? How do we know that they won’t join forces with ISIS if it helps them overthrow Assad?

Third, authorizing military support for Syrian rebels will inextricably draw us into a civil war that we have no way to end. 

Our fight is against ISIS and the Islamist terrorist groups who threaten the United States.  And the limit of that fight should be doing what we need to do to protect Americans and prevent genocide.  Every further step we take from that basic principle—protecting Americas and preventing genocide—takes us back down the road of Middle Eastern nation-building.

That means we should support others with counter-terrorism forces, intelligence gathering, air power, and diplomatic efforts.  And it means stopping the flow of illicit oil, money and fighters across Syria’s borders. We do not need to arm and train Syrian rebels to protect Americans.

I would ask my colleagues to consider America’s history of intervention in the Middle East.  It is not a successful one.

Interventions have failed in Lebanon, Somalia, Libya and Iraq, and Afghanistan is on the brink of failure.

What have we learned from our actions?  Certainly not that going into Muslim countries to restore order or establish democracy is a winning strategy.

Now, I have been very clear: we have every right to, and we must, defend ourselves and protect American citizens and interests against terrorists anywhere in the world. So I again voice my strongest support for the counter-terrorism efforts already ongoing to protect Americans. 

But we have proven by blood and treasure already spent that we have not made a difference with American boots on the ground in this part of the world.

Some have used the examples of our garrisons in Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Balkans as examples of where the United States successfully established rule of law with residual military forces.

But such comparisons have little basis in history. Once our mission was achieved and occupation began, our troops did not face the threat of violence from the same people we had just defended and liberated.

Others have said that if we had kept a residual force in Iraq, ISIS would never have taken hold.  I respectfully disagree.   How can I fault a President for pulling troops out after 8 years, billions spent, and thousands of lives lost, with no end in sight?

Again, we trained an Iraqi military of 280,000 at a cost of $20 billion and when they faced their first test, they folded. And that was a fraction of the total cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

  • Iraq: (conservatively) $818 billion
  • Afghanistan: $747 billion and growing
  • Total costs of our recent wars: $1.6 trillion, not including the costs of long term care of wounded veterans.

But the cost in money is nothing compared to the cost in lives.  In Iraq: 4,400 dead, 36,000 wounded.  In Afghanistan: 2,200 dead, 21,000 wounded. 

M. President I know that my vote comes with a price. It is my understanding that the same vote we make to fund and train the Syrian opposition forces will also be one to pass a CR and fund our government.

I do not believe we should be forced to decide between funding our government and arming Syrian rebels. We should be ashamed for failing to pass appropriations bills to finance government operations for the fiscal year that starts two weeks from now. 

And more ashamed that, for the sake of expediency, we are using a stop-gap continuing resolution as a vehicle for authorizing major military activity. 

Asking us to make this choice is a disservice to the American people. But if that is a decision I am forced to make, it is one I am committed to making.

I understand that my vote will likely not be the deciding vote, but even if it were, I would cast it the same way.

I believe that these votes should be separate and debated.  We have the time to do so and I am prepared, as some of my colleagues may be, to stay in session so that we can give the American people the debate and transparent decision they deserve. 

M. President, we must learn from our past mistakes and we must not repeat them.

I believe that our country deserves this debate.

Let me make it clear, I believe ISIS is a grave threat to the region and could become a direct threat to the United States.  We must confront and defeat them.

I just do not believe that arming the Syrian opposition forces is the correct approach. Because I can foresee a Senate debate a few years from now about how to defeat the next group of Islamist terrorists that we helped to train and install.

I have not come to this decision easily. I know it comes with consequences. But I believe that the people of West Virginia sent me here to make tough decisions and vote to do what is best not only for all West Virginians, but for all Americans.

Thank you, M. President. I yield the floor.