Merkley Statement on Continuing Resolution and ISIS

“Today, I voted for the continuing resolution to keep the government open and keep American workers on the job. This legislation will avert another disastrous shutdown and ensure that critical programs Oregonians rely on, from wildfire prevention to Head Start, continue uninterrupted. While it’s good news that we have avoided another shutdown threat, veering from one stopgap measure to another is no way to run a government. We badly need a return to regular, yearly funding measures that allow us to better debate and prioritize our nation’s investments to grow our economy and our middle class.

“This bill also included two additions to respond to global crises.  First, there is funding to respond to the accelerating Ebola epidemic in western Africa.  Thousands are dying and public health experts warn that tens of thousands more lives are at risk, as well as the frail economies and stability of some of the affected countries.  Moreover, this disease is fully capable of leaping national borders and oceans as infected citizens travel.  The only right thing to do is to contribute substantial resources to bring this crisis under control.

“This legislation also authorizes the equipping and training of opposition forces in the region as part of a broader fight against ISIS.  ISIS is a brutal terrorist organization that poses a threat to Americans in the Middle East and to regional stability as a whole.  Responsibility for fighting ISIS on the ground must be borne by those in the region, and there is a reasonable rationale for providing arms and support to the Kurdish forces and the effective elements of the Iraqi military. 

“The situation in Syria is much more complicated, with an estimated 1,500 different rebel groups, shifting alliances, and the challenges of vetting people in a war zone and removing them to Saudi Arabia for training.  In addition, equipment provided to moderate groups can easily end up in the hands of ISIS through the black market or battlefield acquisition.  The Administration should therefore be extremely cautious in exercising this training and equipping authority, and carefully evaluate whether the strategy is working.

“This limited authorization should in no way be mistaken for endorsement of an American ground offensive against ISIS.  I strongly believe it would be an enormous mistake to engage in another ground war in the Middle East.  These conflicts are rooted in ancient tribal and religious rivalries. The people in the region must take the primary role and responsibility for combating extremism.  Americans will not be made safer by putting our combat troops back into the region.

“Even short of use of ground troops, however, the commitment of American forces to an offensive campaign should be based on an authorization from Congress. Our constitution gave the power to declare war to Congress for good reason. Any offensive military action puts American soldiers in harm’s way, and the consequences of war are significant and unpredictable under the best of circumstances.  That is why any engagement that would extend beyond the 60-day authority in the War Powers Resolution must be based on a specific new authorization by Congress.  I will evaluate such a request when it is submitted based on its scope, its duration, and the facts on the ground.  The Administration should not try to shoe-horn this conflict into previous authorizations intended for very different battles.”