WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement at a hearing of the Committee at which Secretary of State John F. Kerry testified on the ISIS threat:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“Mr. Chairman, the decisions we now face are decisions of life and death. The course we set in the next several weeks and months will have ramifications around the world for years to come. And this situation demands that we set party politics aside. Mr. Chairman, we are grateful as always for your even, bipartisan leadership and I want to identify myself with your remarks.
“Mr. Secretary, thank you for coming before us today, and thank you for your decades of tireless service to our country, for your work during uncertain and dangerous times. Congratulations to you and the Administration for asking for a vote and winning the vote in the House yesterday to aid and train Syrian rebels.
“But, Mr. Secretary, in my view, the step the House took yesterday was long overdue. Over a year and a half ago, I introduced the Free Syria Act, which would have armed and trained vetted members of the opposition at that point.
“We can’t know what would have happened if we had acted then. But we do know that since then, tens of thousands of men, women, and children have lost their lives. Millions have been driven from their homes. And ISIS has grown and spilled across the Iraqi border, leaving behind a trail of destruction and bloodshed.
“Now that we’re on the verge of training and equipping moderate Syrians, this must be considered only a first step to address a far-reaching threat.
“A vast stretch of land in Syria and Iraq is now in the crushing grip of ISIS. Left to fester, ISIS terrorists would rule the Cradle of Civilization with a brand of barbarism out of history’s darkest chapters, and offer safe haven to those who share their hateful and false ideology. Whether ISIS or Al Qaeda, Hamas or Hezbollah, terrorists thrive in ungoverned spaces and spread their lies and hatred.
“We’ve seen this before. In Afghanistan, after the Russians were driven out with American help, the Taliban planted their flag, and Al Qaeda found a safe place to plan attacks against our country, including September 11th, 2001, against my city. Make no mistake; if we don’t act, it will happen again.
“So today, I hope we can explore the way we move forward from here. There are a few points I think are especially important.
“First, building a credible international coalition. It’s critical that our partners in the region play a leading role combating ISIS. But the entire international community has a stake in this effort. Thousands of foreign fighters from dozens of countries have poured into Syria to join ISIS, and these battle-hardened extremists could launch attacks when they return home. I look forward to hearing about your progress with leaders in the Middle East and Europe in addressing the foreign fighter issue, and building an international coalition to degrade and destroy ISIS.
“Secondly, how do we address all aspects of the conflict? The border between Syria and Iraq is gone. We’re now dealing with a single theater. I believe Congress has a responsibility to consider a new AUMF—Authorization for the Use of Military Force—that is specifically tailored to the current situation.
“Next, how do we ensure that our support of the moderate Syrian opposition isn’t just limited to combating ISIS? The Assad regime continues to torture and murder its own citizens. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Assad must go. He is a magnet for extremists and foreign fighters, and this crisis will not end as long as he remains in power. I believe that this train-and-equip program is the best chance we have to bring about a negotiated political solution in Syria. Empowering the moderate opposition is the only way to compel Assad to the negotiating table. Make no mistake; there is no military solution to this crisis. How can we shape an environment that is conducive to bringing the parties to the table and moving toward a negotiated solution?
“Mr. Secretary, you know better than anybody we’re out of good choices. There are no good choices in Iraq and Syria. No one in this Congress or this country wants to be dragged into another open-ended war. But I fear now of all the bad choices the worst choice would be to do nothing. That’s why I’m glad that the House did the right thing yesterday in the vote.
“As the President said last week, ‘We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.’ We need to do this. And we need to do it right.
“So, I thank you again, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Secretary, I look forward to your testimony.”
Watch Rep. Engel's opening statement here