The United States Constitution vests the federal government with the solemn and unique responsibility to secure America from foreign threats. On September 11, the terrorists declared war on us. Conventional rules of battle and warfare were thrown out the window in an instant, and we must respond to a new, apparent foreign threat – fanatics who are willing to tie bombs to their young people in the name of distorted faith and to send them to murder innocent men, women and children. They operate in shadowy corners of the world. Here is where I stand on important issues related to our national security:
(1) War in Iraq. In recent months, the United States and the Iraqi forces have made major strides in quelling the al Qaeda terrorists and their attacks on Shiite Muslim targets. Major attacks have dropped sharply, and civilian and military casualties have been reduced. Simply put, the surge has proven effective. General David Petraeus has also noted that the level of insurgent Syrian militants has decreased dramatically.
We cannot assume that al Qaeda has been defeated. Without question, they have been damaged. Absent a re-gathering of al Qaeda strength against American interests, I do believe that we need to support General Petraeus’ plans to begin a withdrawal and gradual reduction of troop levels into next year. I firmly oppose a disclosed timetable for when we leave Iraq. Tipping off our enemy as to our withdrawal plans has never been a prudent strategy in warfare, and it is one that is surely doomed to fail. I support funding our troops and ensuring they have the best possible equipment and armor. Failure to honor our commitments to those young men and women we send to battle is morally repugnant.
Should a political solution in Iraq not materialize as a result of the surge, and if there is compelling evidence that the religious factions in Iraq cannot live side-by-side under a strong central government, I believe we need to give serious consideration to the division of Iraq into ethnic federations. Historical precedent suggests that this approach is likely to work and reduce the potential for violence and religious strife. The Dayton Accords, which divided the former Yugoslavia into an ethnic federation, seems to have increased stability and reduced violence in that region. Any plan based on an ethnic federation must ensure that all regions have adequate energy and water resources so that civil unrest and violence does not return.
(2) Preempting Terrorist Attacks. The lesson of 9/11 is clear: it is better to fight the enemy at their source than on the streets of America. Congress holds the constitutional responsibility to declare war. However, when an enemy operates independent of a foreign government, much like al Qaeda does, the President as commander-in-chief can receive an Authorization of Force without a full-scale declaration of war as contemplated under Article I of the Constitution. When the President proposes to preempt a terrorist threat, the constitutional responsibility rests with our Executive Branch through the decisions of our military leaders. Authorization of an appropriate preemptive strike should be issued in response to an imminent threat of danger.
Deciding whether to send our young men and women into combat is the most serious issue any member of Congress faces. When Congress and the President decide that military action is necessary to protect our country from a terrorist threat or to secure interests critical to the American people, we must always support our troops by honoring the following principles: (1) set forth a clear, attainable military objective with a sound moral foundation; (2) grant our servicemen and women the capacity and logistical support to achieve victory and meet the stated objectives; and (3) bring our troops home once the objective is attained.
Under no circumstances, within the constitutional checks-and-balances framework, should the President have carte blanche to engage in preemptive warfare. The lesson of 9/11 is that we must be able to operate under a preemptive strike doctrine when it is necessary, justified and appropriate. Congress then plays an oversight role. I believe we must err on the side of caution in protecting our citizens and the infrastructure that supports society in America.
(3) Iran. A new report from multiple U.S. intelligence agencies suggests that Iran stopped development of its nuclear weapons program several years ago. Even assuming that this report is accurate, we must be vigilant in keeping pressure on the Iranian government. There is nothing to suggest that Iran has halted its uranium enrichment program, and it still could have nuclear weapons capabilities within just a few years. Additionally, our military officials in Iraq continue to capture terrorists who were trained in Iran. I believe in a coordinated, international effort of diplomatic pressure, financial sanctions and the threat of U.S. military strength to head off threats from Iran. Evidence indicates that the President of Iran is not popular among his own people, and he should be isolated as a figure in global politics. At the current point in time, I believe America’s priority on the international stage should be to continue the stabilization of Iraq and hunt down vestiges of al Qaeda cells wherever they exist.
(4) Honoring Our Veterans. Just as we must support our soldiers in combat, we must honor them when they return. The federal government has done a poor job taking care of those who are wounded – physically and psychologically – during their tours of duty. America has an obligation to take care of its veterans and provide them with the appropriate health care and services so that they can assimilate back into peaceful society and the workforce. I support the enactment of a Veterans’ Bill of Rights, which would provide mandatory funding of veterans’ health care and streamlined claims handling. Our veterans must have full and unfettered access to state-of-the-art medical care. Similarly, they are entitled to have their claims handled in a respectful and expedient manner. I am horrified by the stories of veterans who have been forced to live in squalor and who have been mistreated by bureaucrats in Washington. It is our moral obligation to take care of those who defend our nation. I have personally visited Illinois wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the wakes of those who have died serving our country to see with my own eyes the grim costs of our security at home.
(5) Torture. America must not adopt a policy where torture of captives is standard operating procedure. If torture is expressly sanctioned, the health and safety of the troops we send into battle to defend our country will be compromised. I recognize, however, that certain circumstances exist when torture and regrettable forms of aggressive interrogation will be the only option to ward off an imminent attack. Should a captive have knowledge of such a direct threat to America and its people, our federal agents must be able to use whatever means are necessary to prevent the attack. While these circumstances are likely to be rare, the use of such interrogation methods is entirely consistent with the natural law principle of self-defense. I oppose any effort to prosecute agents who act according to a specific directive from the Executive Branch, but I believe those who disgrace our country by committing unauthorized criminal acts should be prosecuted and punished.
(6) Energy Independence. America’s dependence on foreign oil is a direct threat to our national security. We cannot continue to put money in the hands of dictators who are intent on destroying our way of life. Energy independence requires a comprehensive national energy policy focused on nuclear power, clean coal technologies, biofuels and geothermal power. A separate position paper on Energy Policy will discuss in detail how we can gain independence from foreign oil and become a more secure nation.
Congress is entrusted with a vital role to ensure that America lives by the time-tested principle of “Peace Through Strength,” espoused by President Ronald Reagan. The threats to America are real and cannot be ignored for political expediency. As the nature of these threats continues to evolve, the federal government must ensure that our national defense is well-funded and able to adapt to the new methods of warfare.