Transcript: Sen. Dick Durbin’s explanation on vote for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s resolution to authorize military force against the Syrian government on Sept. 4, 2013

Partial transcript of remarks by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the joint resolution to authorize military force against the Syrian government in response to the use of chemical weapons. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote was held on Sept. 4, 2013. 

…I’ve listened to this debate and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve harkened back to 12 years ago and the debate over the war in Iraq. Maybe that’s one of the curses of being in Congress for a while but some of these ghosts still rattle around the halls of the United States Congress.

There’s clear difference between what we are considering today and what happened 12 years ago, but our decision is being made in the shadow of the war in Iraq and with the specter of a war in Iran moving.

The shadow recalls that moment 12 years ago when the government of the United States of America was guilty of a political mortal sin.

It mislead the American people into a war. It told the American people that we had to invade Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, which threatened our neighbors, our allies and ourselves. It wasn’t true, and we learned that the hard way, and we paid a bitter, heavy price for it.

Thousands of Americans lost their lives, more than a trillion dollars were spent in a war that should have been avoided. That was the reality of the war in Iraq.

Then on its heels, the war in Afghanistan.

I voted against that war in Iraq and I voted for the authorization for use of force in Afghanistan. That seemed like such a clear choice.

In Afghanistan, we were going after those responsible for 9/11, responsible for killing over 3,000 innocent Americans. Of course, we would. No one strikes the United States and kills our people without paying a price. I voted for it.

I didn’t know at the time – no one could have known – that I was voting for the longest war in American history, and voting for an authorization for use of military force which took that President and many others to far-flung corners of the world in pursuit of stopping terrorism.

I think that is what is behind the American people’s reluctance to see the United States engaged in any additional conflicts, certainly in the Middle East. This bitter memory of what happened in Iraq when we were mislead and this long war in Afghanistan which the President now brings to a close at such a heavy price to Americans and American taxpayers.

But I think this is different. I really do. I really believe that there is a moral component here that’s critically important.

I listened to Sen. [Marco] Rubio – he’s right – the United States bears a special responsibility. It’s one that we don’t always welcome. We can’t be policeman to the world but we have tried to be a leader in this world, particularly when it comes to civilized conduct.

And when it comes to the use of weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons, United States must take a strong position and try to lead the world into a civilized path to avoid the use of these weapons in the future.

The President’s my friend. I was the first Senator to endorse him for President. For 14 months, I was the only Senator who endorsed him for President. His time came in Iowa and he became our nominee for President of the United States, and I’m proud of him. And I respect his values because I know him as well or better than most any person in this town. This President doesn’t come easily to war. He’s a person who understands, as I do, the heavy price that has to be paid. And he understands too there are moments when a leader – command-in-chief – to protect this country and to make this a safer world has to step up and lead. That’s what he’s done here.

This last Saturday, I was with many of his friends back in Illinois. People who worked hard for his election and re-election. They don’t agree with the President – not at this moment – in his policy in Syria. And he understands that. But a true leader has to step up and do what he thinks is right.

And that’s why I joined him today. I think we have narrowly defined what this administration – the President – can do for a purpose that serves beyond our own peace and security a good for the whole world.

And I hope the message comes through from this committee meeting and the floor of the Senate and the House that this Congress – Democrats and Republicans – are resolute when it comes to discouraging and stopping the spread of chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction. If the United States did not take this leadership role, I don’t know who would.

I do want to say that I take very serious the President’s promise that we will not be putting boots on the ground in Syria. I have been to too many funerals, visited too many disabled veterans to ever want to see us do that again except when absolutely necessary for America’s survival. I think what we’ve done today is a step in the right direction. I hope that it makes it a safer world.


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