Merkley Statement on Afghanistan and Syria Vote

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley released the following statement after the final Senate vote today on S.1, a package of bills related to Mideast policy and Israel:

“I fully support providing security assistance to Israel and Jordan, which is why I voted for the Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, the Jordan Defense Cooperation Extension Act, and the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act when they moved through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Israel is a critical partner and friend in the Middle East. From the historical bond between our two democracies, to regional security cooperation and intelligence sharing, it is essential that the United States continue to support Israel and its ability to defend itself in a volatile region.

“However, I voted against the package as a whole because of my concerns about the free speech implications of the provision regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I unequivocally condemn any anti-Semitic language and sentiments that seek to delegitimize the right of Israel to exist. Such rhetoric is hateful and entirely unacceptable, and too often anti-Semitism has been underlying the BDS movement. At the same time, peaceful protest has long been recognized as a protected form of free speech under the First Amendment, and any laws that use the government’s authority to punish peaceful dissent represent a dangerous path. We don’t need to agree with the BDS movement or its goals to believe that the government shouldn’t be using its power to squelch expression it disagrees with.

“I also object to plans to keep our troops in the Middle East indefinitely, as the bill now seems to call for. The President’s decision-making process about troop levels in Afghanistan and Syria has been reckless and wildly inconsistent. But the President’s failure to construct a coherent foreign policy doesn’t mean that the right answer is for U.S. troops to stay deployed overseas with no end in sight. Requiring ‘enduring defeat of al Qaeda and ISIS’ before withdrawing troops from Syria or Afghanistan would lead to forever wars in these countries. In any military deployment, there needs to be a time to fully consider whether circumstances merit ending the deployment and bringing our troops home as part of a carefully developed plan that engages our allies and strong diplomacy to protect American interests.

“It’s unacceptable that Congress continues to shirk its constitutional duty and avoid a formal debate on whether our troops should continue to be deployed overseas. The current deployments are based on an 18-year-old Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)—an authorization that was passed under very different circumstances, and which never mentions ISIS or Syria. That is why I introduced a new AUMF last year, and I will keep pushing for Congress to do its job and vote on whether we should continue sending our sons and daughters into harms’ way.”