Michigan Democrat Carl Levin took to the US Senate floor Tuesday morning to advocate for the agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.
Senator Levin rejected criticism that the agreement removes the US ability to respond with military force to Syrian delays or obstruction.
Here's the text of his statement:
Mr. President, I want to say a brief word about yesterday’s tragic and senseless violence at the Washington Navy Yard. The men and women who help protect our nation, those in uniform and the thousands of civilians who serve the Department of Defense, make enormous sacrifices for us. Facing a workplace gunman should not have to be one of them. Those who have died or been wounded and their families and loved ones are in our thoughts and our hearts today.
I come to the floor this morning to discuss another act of senseless violence, and our nation’s response. In the early morning hours of August 21, the Syrian military began firing artillery rockets into the suburbs east of Damascus, hitting neighborhoods held by the opposition forces that have been fighting to end the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al Assad. We know from the accounts of independent observers such as Human Rights Watch, and the work of our intelligence services and those of our allies, that many of these rockets were armed with warheads carrying sarin, a deadly nerve gas. We know that these rockets were launched from areas under the control of Assad’s regime, using munitions known to be part of Assad’s arsenal, and into areas held by opposition forces. We know from the report of UN weapons inspectors released yesterday that the weapons used – both the rockets and the chemical itself – were of professional manufacture, including weapons known to be in Syria’s government arsenal. There is no other source of this deadly gas except the Syrian government. Nothing else makes any sense whatsoever.
President Obama declared that the United States would act in response to this threat to global security. He determined it was necessary to use American military force to degrade Assad’s chemical capability and deter future use of such weapons by Assad or others. He did so because a failure to act would weaken the international prohibition on chemical weapons use. He did so because the failure to act could lead to greater proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction, including the potential that they could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used against our people. He did so because if the use of chemical weapons becomes routine, our troops could pay a huge price in future conflicts. On September 4, a bipartisan majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the president’s request for an authorization of the limited use of military force.
Faced with this credible threat of the use of force and in response to a diplomatic probe by Secretary Kerry, Russia – which had for more than two years blocked every diplomatic initiative to hold Assad accountable for the violent repression of his people – announced that Assad’s chemical arsenal should be eliminated.
The agreement that followed requires Syria to give up its chemical arsenal on a historically rapid timetable.
Within a week, Syria must fully account for its chemical weapons stockpiles and infrastructure. By the end of November, UN inspectors must be allowed to complete their assessments, and key equipment used to produce chemical agents must be destroyed. All of Syria’s chemical stocks, materials and equipment must be destroyed by the end of next year.
Any failure to abide by the terms of the agreement would lead to consideration of penalties under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, under which the UN Security Council may authorize among other steps “action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” Regardless of UN action or inaction, the president retains the option of using force if Assad fails to fully comply.
This agreement is a significant step toward a goal we could not have achieved with the use of force. The authorization approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had the stated purpose of degrading Assad’s chemical capability and deterring the use of chemical weapons by Assad or by others. What can now be achieved is more than degrading and deterring. We may be able to eliminate one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons.
We should have no illusions that achieving this outcome will be easy. First are the technical and logistical challenges. Many have expressed concern about the likelihood that Assad’s stockpiles can be secured and disposed of as quickly as this agreement provides – by the end of 2014 – especially given the dangerous security environment in Syria. I share these concerns. But accepting and addressing these challenges is a better course than not acting against the certain danger of leaving these weapons in the hands of a brutal dictator allied with Hezbollah, a dictator who has demonstrated a willingness to use them against civilians.
Some have expressed doubts that Assad and Russia will follow through. To address these doubts we must inspect, verify, and continue to hold open the option of a strike against Assad’s chemical capability if he fails to fully abide by the Geneva agreement. What I do not understand is why some of the same voices who called for the United States to get Russia to end its obstructionism now criticize the president for getting the Russians involved.
Mr. President, I was disappointed to hear my Michigan colleague, Congressman Mike Rogers, make the irresponsible claim that this agreement amounts to “being led by the nose” by Russia. That contradicts his previous statements that “we need to put pressure on Russia” to get involved in a solution to the Syrian threat. Chairman Rogers has also said that “what keeps me up at night we know of at least a dozen or so sites [in Syria] that have serious chemical weapon caches” in Syria, and stressed the urgency that “all the right steps are taken so that we don’t lose these weapon caches and something more horrific happens.” Well, thanks to U.S. pressure and a threat to take military action in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, the Russians are finally involved in getting Syria to respond. And we have taken a major step toward securing these chemical weapons – as Chairman Rogers himself so strongly urged.
We need not rely on good intentions from those who have not shown good intentions in the past. It was the credible threat of the use of military force that brought Syria and Russia to the bargaining table. It is a continued credible threat of military force that will keep them on track to uphold the provisions of that agreement. The president has made it clear, and rightfully so, that “if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.” Secretary Kerry, standing right beside his Russian counterpart in Geneva, emphasized that this agreement in no way limits President Obama’s option to use force if it becomes necessary.
Many of our colleagues have stressed repeatedly in recent weeks that the credible threat of military force is essential to reining in Assad. And I strongly agree. For the life of me, I cannot understand why those who have taken that position would now argue, as some of those same colleagues are arguing, that the Geneva agreement is somehow of little or no use because, they say, it somehow removes the option to use force. The Geneva agreement says nothing of that sort. But their argument isn’t just inaccurate. It’s damaging to our efforts. Why would those who believe the threat of force is essential to keeping pressure on Syria and Russia want to argue that it is no longer available? Why would those who have accurately said that the United States does not need international approval to use its military forces now argue that the Geneva agreement leaves us in the position of needing to get international approval to use force in this case, when the Geneva agreement does nothing of the sort?
Some have criticized the Geneva agreement for not doing more to aid the Syrian opposition. Russia and Syria tried to get an agreement not to support the opposition, but they failed to get that agreement from us in the Geneva agreement or anywhere else. Indeed the administration is seeking ways to facilitate the additional support that so many of us believe is essential. I believe we should facilitate the provision of additional military aid to the opposition, especially the vetted elements of Syria’s opposition forces, such as anti-tank weapons. Such aid will help the Syrian people defend themselves from the brutal Assad regime, furthering our goal of bringing a negotiated end to his rule.
I find it troubling that so much of the commentary on this topic has not dealt with substance and policy. Washington has been and always will be a political town. But have we now reached the point where politics seems to be the only lens through which so many people around here view the most important and serious matters of the day, including national security? Speculation as to motives, or about potential winners and losers, or who’s up and who’s down, miss the point. This is not an ice skating contest, with points awarded for style.
What is important is our national security, and whether this agreement advances it. Removing weapons of mass destruction from the hands of a brutal dictator – a preliminary outcome, yes, but real and tangible – is the direct result of American leadership. A month or a year or five years ago, an agreement to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons would have been seen as a significant gain – for our security, and the world’s security, and not just for the president who achieved it, but far more importantly, again, for the safety of our people, of our troops, and the entire world. I hope, as we continue with the hard work of implementing this agreement, and as we seek an end to Bashar al Assad’s rule, we can keep our eyes on those goals, and skip the superficial political scorekeeping and the inaccurate potshots that distract us from achieving those goals.