January 20, 2016

Kaine: Refugees Are Not Our Enemy; ISIL Is Our Enemy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, released the following statement today after voting against consideration of the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE):

“Today I voted against consideration of a bill that would have labeled millions of innocent people fleeing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II as enemies of the United States. Instead of allowing amendments that would actually keep Americans safer – including closing the terrorist gun loophole and increasing funding for anti-terror efforts by local law enforcement and airport security – Republicans would rather talk tough for political gain while doing nothing to strengthen our security.

“If Congress was really serious about keeping America ‘secure against foreign enemies’ we would be voting to authorize the war against our real enemy – ISIL. A debate and vote in Congress would show both our allies and adversaries that we are unified in our resolve against ISIL and committed to defeating the terrorist threat, while also sending an important signal of support to the more than 3,500 U.S. servicemembers we’ve deployed into harm’s way over the past 18 months.”

During hearings in both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees earlier today, Kaine pressed witnesses as to whether they believe ISIL or Syrian refugees are a bigger enemy to the United States. From retired General John Keane to former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, all agreed that ISIL is a bigger enemy to the United States than those fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq.  Crocker went on to say that the United States has an obligation to lead on the global refugee crisis. “In my view,” Crocker said, “that means taking in a significant number of refugees. … I’m all for the vetting process. It’s essential. I’d just like to see it made more of a priority to be able to move refugees faster.”

Kaine also spoke out against the anti-refugee legislation in remarks on the Senate floor earlier.

A full transcript is below:

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about a pending legislative matter that we will be discussing later in the day, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015. This is the title of the bill that was passed by the house in November that is now pending before the Senate and will be discussing later.

We're talking about who are America’s foreign enemies. This is a bill that deals with Iraqi and Syrian refugees, and I assert that refugees are not our enemy, ISIL is our enemy, and yet for some strange reason, in the eighteenth month of a war against ISIL, Congress has been unwilling to debate our real enemy.

First, refugees are not our enemies. The refugee crisis with refugees coming from Syria and now Iraq has been called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Four million Syrians have left their native country because of being exposed to the atrocities of being barrel bombed by Bashar Assad and now the atrocities of ISIL and other terrorist organizations. Those four million have left to find haven just as any family would from this horrible violence.

Over 200,000 Syrians have been killed by this violence. Probably the number is now approaching 300,000. In addition to the four million Syrian refugees who have left Syria to escape violence, there are an additional eight million Syrians who have left their homes and been displaced within the country who could leave the country at any moment as the violence continues.

This is who these refugees are. Victims of violence, victims of unspeakable atrocity perpetrated first by the horrible dictator Bashar Assad and second by terrorist groups like ISIL. And yet this bill would say these refugees are enemies.

There is a story that means an awful lot to me personally, and I hope you'll indulge me. A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up and left him half dead beside the road. By chance, a priest came along, but when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him take care of this man. If the bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here. Now, which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits, Jesus asked. The man replied, the one who showed him mercy. Then Jesus said yes, now go and do the same.

This is a story that was written 2,000 years ago, but it's not a story about yesterday. It's a story about every day of human life on this planet. There are beaten up people lying by the side of the road, and the choice that we have to make as individuals or as a society is do we pass by or do we act as the Good Samaritan did in a compassionate way? In fact, I would argue that the Good Samaritan story actually isn't tough enough. If we call the refugees of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II our enemies, it's as if we were going over to the bandit and not passing by but kicking the man who had been beaten and robbed by bandits.

Let me move away from scripture and talk about American values. The Statue of Liberty that stands in New York Harbor is graced with a powerful poem, “The New Colossus,” written by an American poet – Emma Lazarus. Emma Lazarus was a member of a very prominent Jewish in New York, multi-generational Jewish family.

There was a fundraising campaign to build the pediment on which the Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor and the federal government didn't have the money so the fundraising was done privately. Emma Lazarus wrote a poem about the Statue of Liberty for a fundraising contest to help raise money and that's why the statue is there now. The poem is called "The New Colossus," the colossus reference is to one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes. And Emma Lazarus wrote this poem about the Statue of Liberty calling it “The New Colossus.”

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand; A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame; Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name; Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand; Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command; The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.; ‘Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she; With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,; Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shore; Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The debate that we'll undertake about this bill about whether we call refugees “enemies” is a debate about who we are as a nation. Let's honor our history. Let's honor our values. And let's do what Americans have always done: been willing to extend a hand to those who are victimized by atrocity in other lands rather than extend the back of our hand and label them as enemies.

Now, Mr. President, I don't dislike everything about this bill that we're about to debate. I actually really like the title. The content I don't like. The title: “American Security Against Foreign Enemies act of 2015.” Because, we have an enemy. We've been at war with ISIL for eighteen months. We've spent $5 billion in this war. We deployed thousands of American troops in this war. Eleven members of the American armed services have been killed while on deployment in Operation: Inherent Resolve. We have an enemy.

The enemy is not refugees from Syria. The enemy is ISIL.

You all know the facts about ISIL. This organization that claims to be inspired to create a worldwide caliphate. They have slaughtered Christians and other religious minorities by the thousands. They have sold women into slavery by the thousands. They have beheaded American hostages, including American aid workers. If there's a modern-day equivalent of a Good Samaritan, it is an American aid worker who's trying to help somebody out.

ISIL has kidnapped, captured, and beheaded American aid workers. The number of deaths just this weekend, 400 more people kidnapped by ISIL. In Iraq and Syria, the number of deaths have been in the tens of thousands by ISIL. And as I’ve said, beheading American hostages, 11 American service members killed. But it's beyond Iraq and Syria.

ISIL has claimed credit for bringing down an airliner, killing tourists in the Sinai. ISIL has claimed credit for bombings and shooting attacks killing hundreds in Paris. ISIL has claimed credit for a bombing at a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey that killed hundreds and then a bombing outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul two weeks ago that killed fifteen and injured dozens more.

The shooters in San Bernardino were inspired by ISIL, even if they weren't directly connected to them, and within the last few days we saw another attack, an explosion in Jakarta that was claimed by ISIL.

Now folks, that's who an enemy is, not a refugee who is fleeing ISIL. ISIL is the enemy. ISIL must be defeated. And yet we're not debating ISIL. And we haven't been willing to debate ISIL in eighteen months.

Instead we're trying to claim that refugees are the enemies of this Statue of Liberty nation.

Why has Congress been silent about ISIL for 18 months? Our President has asked Congress, Congress do your job and declare war against ISIL. He even sent to us a proposed authorization eleven months ago – eleven months ago – the President sent to Congress a proposed authorization against ISIL.

There has not been a vote on the floor in the House, there has not been a vote on the floor in the Senate, there has not been a debate on the floor of the House or Senate. There's not been a debate or vote in committees in the House or Senate.

For eleven months since the President asked us, let's get involved and take action against ISIL, there has been no action. And it's not just the President. General Dunford, the Marine General who is now head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Armed Services Committee – I asked him, should we do an authorization against ISIL, and he said it would send the strong message to ISIL – it would send a strong message to our allies. But here's what he said that really grabbed me, coming from a state that is a heavily military state. He said, “Our troops deserve it.” There are thousands deployed away from home risking their lives. And I asked General Dunford, would it be good to have an authorization against ISIL? How would our troops respond? And here is what he said, "What our young men and women need –and it is virtually all that they need to do the job that we ask them to do – is the sense that what they're doing has purpose, has meaning, and has the support of the American people."

Our troops think Congress is indifferent to this. Virginia is very military. We're very closely connected to it, I have a child in the military, one of my three kids. I know what our troops are thinking about Congress right now, which is that while we're deployed overseas fighting this battle and risking our lives, Congress doesn't care and would rather not talk about it.

Secretary Panetta has recently give an speech saying that Congress should act. So our president, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary Panetta and others have said, Congress, have this debate. There's an enemy out there. Have the backbone to name it as an enemy and authorize action against this enemy.

Constitutionally, Congress should act. One of the most important powers in the constitution is in Article One, in the definition of the roles of Congress. It is Congress that declares war, not the President. And that was put in the Constitution by the framers, Virginians like James Madison who knew that before 1787, war was a matter for the emperor and the monarch and the emperor and the sultan, but he said, in America it’s going to be different. We're not going to make war for the executive. We're going to make a declaration of war for the Congress. Once declared, the President can implement, but it is Congress' job. Congress is not doing what the Constitution commands.

Imagine if you were one of the family members of the one of the 11 servicemembers who have been killed while deployed in Operation Inherent Resolve, killed in combat, killed when your jet is taking off from an aircraft carrier and crashes into the ocean or otherwise killed during a deployment.

You sent your best and brightest as they volunteered to the American military and then they were sent overseas to fight an enemy, that we all agree is an enemy, that we all agree is conducting atrocities and that pride of your life is killed while serving a country and yet Congress won't even have a debate, won't even have a debate about whether ISIL is an enemy and whether we should declare war against ISIL and instead wants to have a debate about whether refugees from ISIL should be called our enemies.

Imagine how you would feel if you were one of those families and Congress was unwilling to even dignify the loss of your loved one by two minutes of debate or vote on the floor of either the Senate or the House.

David Ignatius wrote a piece yesterday in the Washington Post, "The Ugly Truth: Defeating The Islamic State Will Take Decades" and the last line of his article says this. “The next president is going to inherit an expanding war against a global terrorist adversary. The debate about how to best fight this enemy hasn't even begun.” After 18 months, after deaths of American troops, after all these atrocities, after bombings in cities all over the world, the debate hasn't even begun because we refuse to have it in this chamber.

Why has Congress – as I conclude – why has Congress been silent about this since we began military action against ISIL on August 8th of 2014? We will hit the eighteenth month anniversary in a couple weeks in February. I got a lot of criticisms of the Administration’s strategy. I think they waited too long to send the authorization to us. I don’t think the authorization is particularly well-drafted. But, that’s no obstacle for us acting. Presidents send authorizations frequently and Congress redrafts them.

So, I’m not light on criticism for the Administration, but I am asking this question in this chamber where I am a member, and so my question is critical but it is also self-critical. Why has Congress been silent in the eighteen-month battle against ISIL?

It’s because of fear. Fear of not ISIL, fear of accountability. A war vote is hard. It is the hardest vote we will ever cast and it should be. How much easier is it to criticize the President saying, “We don’t like your strategy, you’re doing it wrong, how come you don’t do more airstrikes here or put more boots on the ground there?” That is much easier for Congress to do then to actually have a debate about ISIL, and craft a strategy and then say we, Members of Congress individually, are putting our names on this.

Members of Congress have been looking actively to avoid a vote on this for eighteen months because a war vote is tough. Under the best of circumstances, there are going to be consequences that will be painful and tragic. There will be American lives lost – and that’s under the best of circumstances. War isn’t always fought under the best of circumstances. There will be surprises, there will be twists and turns where we go down a path – like trying to train and equip a moderate Syrian opposition and find that we’ve invested in that and it doesn’t work out the way we hope. And so people, I think in Congress, in both houses and both parties, have had a sense that maybe if we don’t vote and we just kind of criticize the President, and we just kind of turn our eye while we’re essentially forcing people to risk their lives in a war that we’re not willing to declare, people won’t hold us accountable.

I’ve seen that tendency throughout my twenty-one years in elected service when a tough vote is on the table – when something is hard and complicated, and this certainly is. If I can avoid it, well then I’d like to avoid it. But that is so disrespectful to the oath that we took, where we pledged to live up to the laws, including the Article One responsibilities of Congress.

It is so disrespectful to the volunteer military deployed overseas risking their lives and the families of those who have already lost their lives. And after all, what is our fear of a tough vote – in the grand scheme of things – as against the sacrifice that our troops are making overseas? Now that’s something that’s really hard. Having to cast a tough vote? That’s not that hard.  It’s not that hard. We can do this. We can do this.

The only action that has been taken since this war started eighteen months ago was on a bill I introduced: an authorization for military force against ISIL. I introduced in September of 2014, one month after the war started. It got a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a 10 to 8 vote. Sadly it was a partisan vote. It was right at the end of the previous Congress and it expired with no action. And a number of those who voted against it said, “Look, the majority is about to change. Why do this now with two weeks left in the session? When the majority changes we can take it up.” Some said, “The President hasn’t even sent us a draft authorization yet, it’s premature to do it.” Well, now we have the President’s draft authorization – we’ve had it for eleven months and done nothing. Now we’ve seen – and there can be no doubt at this point of the evil nature of this threat that we face. Now is the time finally for Congress to step up to our responsibility and do our job.

I’ve used a couple literary references so let me close with one. A great poet – Irish poet, I’m biased – William Butler Yeats wrote a poem at the end of World War I. He surveyed the wreckage of World War I about 100 years ago. And World War I in a lot of historians’ views was kind of one of the most needless war in some ways. It was unclear what it was about. But, what it really was about was decaying monarchies that wouldn’t change. And, instead of changing they let a terrorist action – the assassination of a nobleman and leader in the Balkans – trigger the start of World War I. And it was mechanized slaughter and millions lost their lives and the U.S. came in and played a very important role and sort of, at the end of the day, kind of being the peacemaker that had to come in to resolve it.  

Yeats wrote a poem after World War I surveying the wreckage of these societies called, “The Second Coming”, and he expressed a real concern about the state of society at the time because what he noticed was at that time “the best lack all conviction and the worst; are filled with passionate intensity.”

We have an enemy, ISIL, and I think we can all agree that they are filled with a passionate intensity. They are the worst in their human rights violations, their atrocities and their complete disrespect for human life. They’re the worst. They are the enemy. We should be debating about them. And the best lack all conviction.

We are the best nation in the world. I firmly and deeply believe that. I’ve believed it every day that I’ve been alive for 58 years. We are the best. We have the best system of government in the world, and while that system of government is often described as three coequal branches, there is a reason they put the legislative branch in Article One, and the executive in Article Two and the judiciary in Article Three.

This is the first among the coequal branches because we are the direct representatives of the people and that is how it was structured, so that we would be the best of the best. The best branch in the best government in the best nation in the history of the world.

Do we lack all conviction?

If we are willing to call refugees fleeing from violence our enemies but we’re afraid to take up a debate about whether ISIL is an enemy, to support our troops in harm’s way? That’s the question that I’m asking today.

I know we are the best. Where is our conviction? So I ask my colleagues – in connection with this bill – let’s keep the title to it. Let’s secure America against foreign enemies. Let’s secure America against ISIL, but let’s not turn our back to the victims of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Mr. President, with that, I yield the floor.