The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken control over areas of Iraq and Syria since 2013, threatening the security and stability of the entire region. ISIS is a vicious terrorist group that has brutally murdered Americans and threatens the safety of Americans and our national security interests.
On September 10, 2014, President Obama outlined a multi-part strategy to degrade and defeat ISIS. I believe it’s critically important that our nation undertake appropriate actions to destroy ISIS. I’ve pushed for a comprehensive approach that cuts off ISIS’s finances, blunts the group’s ability to hold territory and kills terrorists who would plot attacks against America. It is crucial that the U.S. effort to combat ISIS is supported by a broad coalition of countries. It’s incumbent upon the Administration to continually engage in a rigorous review of its strategy and consider ways to improve its effectiveness.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in 2012, I have consistently advocated for a more robust strategy to protect our national security interests in the region. On March 12, 2014, the third anniversary of the conflict in Syria, I spoke on the floor of the Senate condemning the violence in Syria and underscoring the importance of resolving the conflict. A stable, peaceful and prosperous Syria in the heart of the Middle East is in the national security interest of the United States and our allies.
The conflict in Syria and the international effort to degrade and defeat ISIS are inextricably linked. We cannot expect to bring about a lasting defeat of ISIS without bringing about a political transition in Syria. In September 2015, I sent a letter to Secretary Kerry calling for greater U.S. leadership on our Syria policy focusing on three key aspects: political, multilateral, and humanitarian. On October 29, 2015, I spoke on the Senate floor to again address the need for a political solution to end the conflict in Syria. On November 19, 2015, I delivered a speech on the Senate floor regarding the attacks in Paris and our strategy against ISIS.
On December 2, 2015, I sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging Congress to take action on five commonsense steps before the end of the year to improve our homeland security and advance the fight against ISIS. These steps include:
(1) Prioritizing efforts to dismantle the financial networks that support ISIS’s activities; (2) Considering legislative proposals to meaningfully address potential homeland security vulnerabilities that terrorists could exploit including attacking the loophole on gun purchasing weapons and explosives; (3) Making reasonable modifications to the Visa Waiver Program; and (4) Scheduling time for a robust debate about the strategy against ISIS, as well as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) (5) Immediately confirming several nominees for national security positions that have been stalled.
I am also very concerned about the potential for “lone wolf” type attacks, inspired by ISIS’s hateful ideology, against targets in the homeland. Our law enforcement professionals are increasingly on the front lines of our homeland security, and we need to ensure that they have all the resources, training, and support necessary to confront this threat.
The heroic work of our military and security professionals has made progress over the last year, but there is much more the Administration and Congress can do to protect our homeland and intensify efforts against ISIS. I have repeatedly called for the Senate to set aside a substantial amount of floor time to debate an AUMF against ISIS. This floor debate and subsequent hearings could provide an opportunity for a rigorous review and examination of our strategy.
I will continue to press the Administration, as I have since the summer of 2014, to take aggressive action on ISIS’s financing. The Administration has to step up its targeting of ISIS’s financiers and the countries that allow those financiers safe haven. I will also continue to press for the passage of my bipartisan legislation, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act (S. 1887), which would limit ISIS’s ability to profit from the black market sale of stolen antiquities.
I have expressed my concern about the devastating humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria and Iraq, and I strongly support greater humanitarian assistance for the innocent civilians caught in the middle of the ongoing conflict in Syria and in ISIS’s path of terror and destruction. The World Health Organization has called Syria the worst ongoing humanitarian crisis on earth. We should continue to work with partners in the region to get urgently needed humanitarian aid to those displaced and persecuted by the militants in both Iraq and Syria. The United States remains the largest bilateral provider of humanitarian assistance, with more than $4.5 billion in U.S. assistance to date.
In terms of homeland security, I believe we need to take concrete steps to ensure that our state and local law enforcement professionals, as well as community organizations, have the expertise and resources to address the potential threats of violent extremism. I am a cosponsor of the Community Partnerships Act of 2015, a bill that would authorize the Office of Community Partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security. This legislation would also establish a grant program that would allow DHS to support state, local, and tribal government entities, as well as universities and non-profit organizations, who are conducting Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programming.
On January 14, 2016, I sent a letter to DHS Secretary to improve counter-radicalization efforts. Johnson urging that his Department communicate directly with law enforcement and community organizations to improve counter-radicalization efforts. A Looking toward the future, we must gain a better understanding of the radicalization process and develop strategies to intervene and prevent violence while also respecting First Amendment rights.