1. Bills, Resolutions & Letters
2. Syria in the Spotlight
4. Members on the Record
5. From the Press/Blogs
NOTE (6/26/13) See correction below, regarding S. Amdt. 1200 to S. 744.
NOTE: On June 14, 2013, the Congressional Research Service published its latest (and extremely comprehensive) report on the situation in Syria and U.S. policy, entitled, "Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response."
Also, check out my new piece in the Forward: The Provocative IDF Soldiers You Really Need To See
1. Bills, Resolutions, & Letters
(SYRIA) S. 1201: Introduced 6/20 by Udall (D-NM) and three cosponsors (Murphy, D-CT, Lee, R-UT, and Paul, R-KY), "A bill to restrict funds related to escalating United States military involvement in Syria." Referred to the Select Committee on Intelligence. Press release touting introduction of the bill is available here.
(SYRIA) HR 2432: Introduced 6/19 by Nolan (D-MN) and no cosponsors, "To prohibit the obligation or expenditure of funds made available to any Federal department or agency for any fiscal year to provide military assistance to any of the armed combatants in Syria absent express prior statutory authorization from Congress." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
(SYRIA) H. Con. Res. 40: Introduced 6/20 by Jones (R-NC) and no cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of Congress that the President is prohibited under the Constitution from initiating war against Syria without express congressional authorization and the appropriation of funds for the express purpose of waging such a war." Referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Jones' press release touting the resolution is entitled: "JONES INTRODUCES RESOLUTION TO DECLARE THE USE OF MILITARY FORCE IN SYRIA WITHOUT CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL AN IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE."
(ISRAEL IN DEFENSE APPROPS) HR 2397: Introduced 6/17 by Young (R-FL), "Making appropriations for the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2014, and for other purposes." Note: Since Congress always passes a Defense Authorization bill (the NDAA, discussed in previous issues of the Round-Up), there is far less authorizing language included in the Defense Appropriations bill than in some other cases (most notably, the ForOps Approps bill). Congressional intentions with respect to funding for Israel-related programs in the Defense Budget are included in detail in the NDAA. The Defense Approps bill, however, does include hard earmarks for Israeli Cooperative Programs, under Sec. 8070. This section stipulates that "Of the amounts appropriated in this Act under the headings `Procurement, Defense-Wide' and `Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Defense-Wide', $489,091,000 shall be for the Israeli Cooperative Programs." That funding is further broken down as follows:
- $220,309,000 shall be for the Secretary of Defense to provide to the Government of Israel for the procurement of the Iron Dome defense system to counter short-range rocket threats;
- $149,712,000 shall be for the Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense (SRBMD) program, including cruise missile defense research and development under the SRBMD program, of which $15,000,000 shall be for production activities of SRBMD missiles in the United States and in Israel to meet Israel's defense requirements consistent with each nation's laws, regulations, and procedures;
- $74,707,000 shall be available for an upper-tier component to the Israeli Missile Defense Architecture, and
- $44,363,000 shall be available for the Arrow System Improvement Program including development of a long range, ground and airborne, detection suite:
The language also stipulates, as has been in the case in the past, that "funds made available under this provision for production of missiles and missile components may be transferred to appropriations available for the procurement of weapons and equipment, to be merged with and to be available for the same time period and the same purposes as the appropriation to which transferred." This means that Congress is granting special permission for a portion of the funds for Israel programs in this bill to be transformed into straight FMF for Israel, to be used in addition to the FMF for Israel provided in the regular appropriations process, under the U.S.-Israel assistance MOU.
The report language accompanying the bill notes that funding in the bill for Iron Dome ($220,309,000) is the amount requested by the President. It also notes that the bill includes, "$268,782,000 for the Israeli Cooperative Programs, an increase of $173,000,000 above the President's request" - i.e., the bill nearly appropriates an amount for these programs nearly triple what the Obama Administration requested.
CORRECTED (TARGETING ARAB/MUSLIM STUDENTS COMING TO U.S.) S. Amdt. 1200 to S. 744: This week the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" was on the Senate floor. On 6/19, in the course of the floor consideration,
the Senate adopted VOTED TO TABLE, by a vote of 61-37, an amendment offered by Paul (R-KY). Among other things, this amendment (discussed in last week's Round-Up) requires SOUGHT TO REQUIRE the establishment of an innocuously named "Student Visa National Security Registration System." The system, however, is not intended to track all student visa holders - only those from Arab and Muslim countries (plus a few others on the list, like Russia and North Korea).
With the adoption of this amendment IF THIS AMENDMENT HAD BEEN ADOPTED, S. 744 now requires WOULD HAVE REQUIRED student visa recipients from any of the countries listed (the 27-country axis-of-potential-evil?) to register with the System and be interviewed and fingerprinted. It requires WOULD HAVE REQUIRED that the Secretary "perform a background check" on each and every one of them, "to ensure that such individuals do not present a national security risk to the United States" (already, EVERY applicant for any kind of U.S. visa must first clear a name-check system designed for this same purpose; it is not clear what addition background checking is now WOULD HAVE BEEN required). In addition, the bill requires WOULD HAVE REQUIRED that the Secretary "establish a procedure for monitoring the status of all alien students in the United States on student visas." The entire requirement seems to be WOULD HAVE BEEN a massive unfunded mandate (no funding is specifically provided to establish/implement the system). The text, IF IT HAD BECOME PART OF THE BILL AND PASSED INTO LAW, also stipulates that if the System is not put into place within 181 days of the language becoming law, the issuance of all student visas (F and J visas) must be suspended entirely until it has been implemented.
All of this appears to be grounded in racial-religious fear-mongering, justified by (a) the mistaken belief that many of the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. on student visas (out of 19, 1 did so), (b) more recently, the mistaken belief the Boston Marathon bombers entered the U.S. on student visas (they didn't) and (c) the gut-level belief of many in the U.S. that all Arabs and Muslims must be treated as threats, period.
FactCheck.org not long ago issued a pretty comprehensive report on the issue of misperceptions about student visas and terrorism - one that Members of Congress would do well to read. As things stand today, one has to wonder: will the next step be for Congress to pass a law aimed at addressing the "stealth" Arab and Muslim students - those who are citizens of non-Arab and non-Muslim nations and who thus manage to circumvent this new requirement? Perhaps the next iteration of the
bill PAUL AMENDMENT will include language requiring the establishment of a new name-check system for all student visa applicants - one designed to make sure that anyone whose first name includes any variation of "Mohammad," "Ali" or "Abdul," or whose last name start with "Al" is subjected to these same special System requirements.
(SYRIA) McCain-Levin-Menendez letter: On 6/18 Senators McCain (R-AZ), Levin (D-MI) and Menendez (D-NJ) sent a letter to President Obama urging the president to "take specific steps to change the military balance of power in Syria against the Assad regime and its foreign supporters." The letter notes: "Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, to authorize robust lethal assistance to vetted opposition units in Syria. We urge you to take this essential step." It also notes, "We must also degrade Assad's ability to use air power and ballistic missiles against civilian populations and opposition forces in Syria. Such actions could include the targeting of regime airfields, runways, and aircraft on the ground, which would also limit Assad's ability to transport and resupply his ground forces and those of his allies by air. Finally, as part of this military effort, we encourage you to take steps to support the Syrian political and military opposition in creating and defending safe zones inside Syria where they can better organize and unify their efforts."
2. Syria in the Hill Spotlight
As noted above, this past week saw the introduction of legislation in both the House and Senate (S. 1201 and HR 2432), both introduced by Democrats, seeking to block an escalation of U.S. engagement in the Syria conflict. There was also the introduction of H. Con. Res. 40 , by a Republican, reflecting a similar sentiment. On the side of the equation is the McCain-Levin-Menendez letter, urging even greater engagement being currently contemplated.
These pieces of legislation underscore the growing disagreement within Congress, and within both parties, over what the Obama Administration should be doing in Syria. Last week, for example, Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) at a hearing on Syria, came out against arming the rebels. A day earlier, Royce (R-CA) issued a statement encouraging the Obama Administration to do so. This week, in turn saw some Tea Party stalwarts in both the House and Senate reading from what appeared to be the talking points, categorically opposing arming the rebels, plus a few Democrats making similar points:
Gohmert (R-TX) 6/20: Slamming plans to for "giving money to Syria..." Gohmert observes: "A billion dollars is what I was reading today. How about taking that billion dollars that's going to cause all kinds of death and that will probably in some way, some day end up causing the deaths of Americans and Israelis, allies of ours, Coptic children, Jewish friends, they're going to kill people that were never intended because it's not well enough thought out of this administration rushing into Syria. Well, we didn't rush in. That's for sure. Perhaps if the President had decided early on to go in, then it wouldn't have been so massive an al Qaeda movement within the rebels. But we know they're there."
Cruz (R-TX) 6/20: Objecting to the Obama Administration's plan to arm Syrian rebels - in a slightly more sophisticated, articulate version of Gohmert's floor speech (above).
Poe (R-TX) 6/19: On U.S. involvement in Syria: "This is not our war, Mr. Speaker. We have no national security interest. There's no American goal. We don't know the goal. We don't know the end result, and we don't even know who we are arming as those rebels. They could be made up of criminals, patriots, al Qaeda. We ought not be involved in this war that has no national security interest for the United States."
Murphy (D-CT) 6/18: On Syria: "...Not everywhere where there is an American interest is there also a reason for American military action. In Syria, with a badly splintered opposition, a potential nightmare follow-on civil war, I believe the odds are slim that U.S. military assistance will make the difference that the President believes it will make. And I worry that our presence could harm, not advance, our national security interests. There is, thankfully, another way. Given the atrocities occurring within Syria and the potential for further destabilization in the region, the United States cannot and should not simply walk away from Syria. We should dramatically increase our humanitarian aid--both inside and outside Syria. We should help improve conditions at the refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan, and help other nations bearing the burden of displaced persons, such as Lebanon and Iraq, deal with the influx of people. Put simply, we should concentrate our efforts on humanitarian help inside Syria and on making sure the conflict doesn't spill outside of Syria's borders. At the very least, our Nation's role in Syria deserves a full debate in Congress before America commits itself to a course of action with such potentially huge consequences for our national interests...it is incumbent upon the full Senate to ask questions of the administration's short-term and long-term goals, and to debate the consequences of American intervention fully. This is serious business, and the American public deserves a full debate."
Udall (D-NM) 6/17: On Syria: "... once we have introduced arms, neither we nor their fighters may be able to guarantee control over them. Such weapons could end up in the hands of groups and people who do not represent our interests, possibly including terrorists who target the United States, our allies, such as Israel and Turkey, and the Iraqi Army and Government--an Iraq that we spent billions of dollars and thousands of American lives to establish. Given this reality, those who are pushing for military intervention should answer three basic questions: Can arms be reasonably accounted for and kept out of the hands of terrorists and extremist groups? Can they assure us those arms will not become a threat to our regional allies and friends, including Israel, Turkey, and the Government of Iraq? And if the answer to the two previous questions is no, can they then explain why transferring our weapons to the rebels, whose members may themselves be affiliated with terrorist and extremist groups, is a sensible option for the American people? What national interest does this serve? I do not believe those questions have been answered. I think the majority of the American people agree. They do not see the justification of our intervention in this civil war. We need to slow down this clamor for more weapons to Syria and war and take a step back from this plunge into very muddy and dangerous waters..."
Gohmert (R-TX) 6/17: Calling for the U.S. to stay out of "entangling alliances" in Syria and slamming those who "want to rush to the aid of the al Qaeda-backed rebels" in Syria
Other statements on Syria this week (both for and against escalation):
Rubio (R-FL) 6/14: It is in America's interest for Assad to be removed from power and for Syria to be put on a path toward stability. The longer we continue to outsource this problem to other actors, the more the country will fragment, spreading instability, violence, and chaos to its neighbors, with implications for U.S. national security for decades to come. We are now witnessing in Syria what a world without decisive American leadership looks like. There is no more time for half measures. I again call on the President to explain what he will do to respond to this humanitarian and national security nightmare."
Schiff (D-CA) 6/14: "...I have grave concerns about the United States becoming an arms provider in this civil war. Supplying small arms and ammunition to certain rebel elements may help to stabilize the situation on the battlefield in the near term, but it will not alter the strategic balance. If and when this proves to be insufficient to affect the outcome, we will undoubtedly be called upon to provide even more powerful weaponry, to establish a no fly zone, or to risk American lives."
Langevin (D-RI) 6/14: "...Although I oppose U.S. boots on the ground in Syria, I support the President's decision to provide other military support to opposition groups, and I look forward to his further consultation with Congress on this topic. I also hope the international community considers implementing a no-fly zone in the area..."
Miller (R-MI) 6/18: "...The recent decision of the Obama administration to provide lethal aid to Syrian rebels is a troubling development. I believe strongly that American power must only be used when our nation is under a direct threat of attack or when the American people have been convinced that vital national interests are at stake. In the case of Syria there is no imminent threat of attack on our nation, and the President has failed to make any case to the American people that vital American interests are at stake."
Portman (R-OH) 6/14: "Portman Presses Administration for More Decisive Action in Syria
More from the press:
FoxNews 6/21: Bipartisan Senate group seeks to block military funds to Syria Reuters 6/21: Four Senators seek to bar military aid to Syrian rebels
Wall Street Journal 6/21: In Congress, Concern About Arming Syria's Rebels
MSNBC 6/20: Democratic senator challenges Obama's Syria policy
Houston Chronicle 6/20: Ted Cruz says no to Syrian rebels: 'Don't give weapons to people who want to kill us'
National Review Online 6/20: Did Ted Cruz Just Call for Military Action in Syria?
The Jewish Voice 6/19: Senator Menendez Urges Stronger US Action on Syria
CBSNews 6/19: Senators: U.S. must take "more decisive" military action in Syria
FoxNews 6/17: Coats (R-IN) Discusses Syria's Civil War on FOX News
AP 6/17: Massachusetts Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez says Syria has passed over President Obama's 'red line'; Ed Markey offers cautious support of policy
WAVY.com 6/17: VA officials discuss Syria controversy (Rigell, Kaine)
FoxNews 6/17: Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio Support Bigger U.S. Role in Syria Conflict
Rigell (R-VA) press release: House Passes Rigell's Legislation to Reaffirm Congress' Constitutional War Powers - "This is not the King's army" (amendment to NDAA last week)
6/26: Hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging threats, entitled: Turkey at a Crossroads: What do the Gezi Park Protests Mean for Democracy in the Region?" Scheduled witnesses are: Hillel Fradkin (Hudson Institute), Soner Cagaptay (WINEP), Kadri Gursel (Al-Monitor), James Jeffrey (WINEP, Former American Ambassador to Turkey)
6/25: Joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committees Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, entitled, "Religious Minorities in Syria: Caught in the Middle." Panel 1 witness is Thomas Melia (Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy) Panel 2 witnesses are: Rev. Majed El Shafie (One Free World International), John Eibner (Christian Solidarity International, USA), and Nina Shea (Hudson Institute).
6/20: The Senate Foreign Relations held a Top Secret/Closed meeting on Syria, during which Secretary of State Kerry briefed the committee. Kerry also reportedly briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on 6/18 on Syria.
6/25: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to consider, among other things, S. 559 (with an amendment), "to establish a fund to make payments to the Americans held hostage in Iran , and to members of their families, who are identified as members of the proposed class in case number 1:08-CV-00487 (EGS) of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia" (short title: the "Justice for Former American Hostages in Iran Act of 2013."
6/18: The House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held a hearing entitled "Elections in Iran: The Regime Cementing its Control." The panel was composed of an unusually serious, substantive group of witnesses: Alireza Nader, Rand Corporation (full text of statement); Suzanne Maloney, Brookings (full text of statement); and Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (full text of statement). Video of the full hearing is available here. Report by Barbara Slavin in Al-Monitor on the hearing: Congress Not Won Over By Rouhani Victory in Iran. Report on the hearing from NIAC: Congressional Hawks Caught Off Guard by Iran Election Results, but Call for Staying the Course on Sanctions
6/18: The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a briefing in Congress entitled, "Human Rights Challenges Facing Syrian Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons." Scheduled witnesses were: Jana Mason (UNHCR), Beth Ferris (Brookings), Tiffany Lynch (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom) and Sahar Chaudry (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom)
4. Members on the Record
Cardin (D-MD) 6/20: Statement on World Refugee Day, focusing on Syrian refugees
Hastings (D-FL) 6/20: Statement on World Refugee Day, focusing on Syrian refugees
Israel (D-NY) 6/19: Asking members to support his resolution calling for Bashar al-Assad to the tried before the International Criminal Court
Wolf (R-VA) 6/19: On the future of religious minorities in the Middle East (remarks he delivered at Wilson Center event)
Connolly (D-VA) 6/17: Extension of remarks in the record regarding his NDAA Egypt amendment
5. From the Press/Blogs
Jerusalem Post 6/21: US Congressmen push back against EU on failure to blacklist Hezbollah
JTA 6/20: U.S. Senator Rand Paul holds reconciliation meeting with Jewish Republicans
StarTribune 6/20: Israel-U.S. visa proposal isn't fair
Haaretz 6/20: U.S. officials: Rowhani election shows Iran sanctions are working
Bnai Brith 6/19: Action Alert promoting HR 850 (more sanctions on Iran)
YNet 6/19: Congressmen urge EU to label Hezbollah terror group
Jerusalem Post 6/19: AIPAC warns on Iranian president-elect Rohani
Jerusalem Post 6/19: US Senate unfazed on sanctions after Rohani win
Freebeacon 6/19: House Defense Authorization Includes Military Hardware for Israel
The Hill 6/18: Sen. Mark Kirk breaks with Obama over outreach to Iran's new president
Washington Post 6/18: Israeli politicians form new caucus to track the U.S. relationship
FDD Op-Ed in the New York Times "Room for Debate": Rowhani Is a Tool of Iran's Rulers (circulated by FDD by email to Congressional offices on 6/18)
JTA Op-Ed 6/17:S top pretending to care about Iranians' rights (Shai Franklin)
Defense News 6/17: US Experts Forecast Military Aid Hikes for Israel
HuffPo 6/17: Iran's Election Win Warrants U.S. Sanctions Rethink
Arutz Sheva 6/16: US Passes Bill to 'Remove Existential Threats' From Israel
Globes (Israel) 6/16: US legislators tie defense budget to Israeli security
NIAC 6/16: House Passes Annual Defense Bill, Rattles Sabers at Iran