Rubio: “Never again can we allow an Al Qaeda-style group to establish a safe haven where they can plot against us anywhere on this planet. And the choice before you, Mr. President, is you either deal with it now or some future president and future Congresses and future Americans will deal with it later.”U.S. Senator Marco Rubio
Senate Floor Speech
June 18, 2014
“I appreciate this opportunity to come here to the Senate today to discuss the situation in Iraq. I know it’s receiving a tremendous amount of attention. I was just, a moment ago – and hopefully they’ll join us here in the gallery in a moment – with some very close friends from South Florida, including the former Mayor of West Miami, now the Commissioner, the Chair of the County Commission in Miami-Dade County – her name is Rebeca Sosa – who actually got me started in politics. When Rebeca was Mayor of West Miami, I went to see her and told her I was interested in public service. And we walked door-to-door in a city, a small city called West Miami of 5,000 residents, where she taught me how to campaign one-on-one with real people in their real lives.
“Now I return home every weekend when we’re done here and in our work throughout the state, to that very same community that I still live in. And increasingly, people there are asking about the situation in Iraq. And the question that I get from many people is, and I want to be blunt about how they say it, they say, ‘I understand that this is a problem, but why is it our business? Why do we care about what’s happening in another country, which seems to be a fight among themselves?’
“This is a very legitimate question because I know Americans watch these issues that are happening abroad and they ask themselves, ‘Why does America need to be the world’s policeman?’ But I would want to take a few moments today to explain why this matters, why it matters to people not just in the Middle East, but even to people in the small city of West Miami where I still live.
“You see, the situation in Iraq is, in some extent, a civil war between Sunni and Shia, like you see in other conflicts such as Syria and places like that. That is a real aspect of it, and I would say that the current government of Iraq has contributed greatly to it, by the way, spurred on by Iranian influence to further exacerbate that divide between Sunni and Shia.
“But while it is fair to say that much of what is happening in Iraq is a civil war between two sects, it is not fair to say that, that is all it is because what’s happening in Iraq has a direct bearing on the future security of every American, even those Americans that live in the small city of West Miami, where I live. And here’s why.
“Imagine for a moment if we could go back in time to the year 1997 or 1996 or 1998 or 1999, and had known about Al Qaeda then what we knew by September of 2001. We would have realized that this was a dangerous group that had the capacity and a deep willingness to attack and kill Americans in order to terrorize us so that we would leave the Middle East and turn it over to people like them. If we had known that and taken that seriously – and I would say that some did know this – if we had done something about it, it is fair to say that eventually there would have been some sort of terrorist attack, but maybe there wouldn’t have been one on September 11, 2001.
“If we had actually targeted this group and degraded their capabilities while they were still in their safe haven in Afghanistan or even before that, we potentially could have saved the lives of thousands of Americans and more importantly avoided the rise of Al Qaeda in the region and the world. But we did not. And while this is not a time to point fingers or throw blame around, I certainly think it’s a time to learn the lessons of that history and apply them to the challenges of our time.
“What is happening today in Iraq and in portions of Syria is in many ways the exact same thing. A radical group, ISIL – which by the way, rose through the ranks of Al Qaeda until they now have a split from Al Qaeda, believe it or not, because Al Qaeda thinks that ISIL is too brutal to their fellow Muslims. This group has been growing in strength ever since the United States left Iraq. This group has been fed and its strength has been given to them by foreign fighters that have spilled into the conflict in Syria, where they have established a foothold and have used it as a staging and operational ground to take their brand of ruthlessness now into Iraq.
“We saw over the weekend images and photographs and videos of the mass assassination, execution of Sunni members -- or Shia members -- of the Iraqi military. They have grown in strength over this time and they have begun to grow in their influence in Iraq, and their goal is simple. They want to establish the premier Islamic caliphate in all the world. The premier Sunni-Islamic caliphate in the region. Caliphate basically means Islamic kingdom. And they don’t care about existing borders. The kingdom they envision is a vast safe haven that encompasses portions of Syria that they already have under their control, and portions of Iraq that they are now gaining control of.
“And what is their goal for this place that they’re trying to set up? Their first goal is to institute Sharia law. And they have a particularly brutal brand of Sharia that they have forced upon people both in Syria and now increasingly in Iraq. But their second goal is to establish an Islamic caliphate state, a safe haven from where they can plan, and train, and ultimately carry out terrorist attacks against the United States and other countries, including attacks here in our homeland.
“And so we must learn the lessons of before 2001, and we must say to ourselves, ‘Under no circumstances will we ever again allow a safe haven for this kind of terrorist to ever gain a safe haven anywhere in the world. We will never allow this to happen again.’ And that is why it is so critical that we be engaged here.
“The reason why we should care about this issue, it’s not because we want to force upon Iraq democracy, or force upon Iraq the type of government we think they need. The reason why we care is because we cannot allow a safe haven to develop there that can be used to carry out attacks that can kill Americans, including here in our homeland. This is why we should care. And this is why it is so important that the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, the President, come as quickly as possible before the American people and before this Congress with a plan to address this risk.
“Now, I know the President likes to go around saying the war is over. But no one told ISIL that. No one told Al Qaeda that. No one has told these terrorists that. They don’t think the war is over. In fact, in their minds, this war will go on for hundreds of years. And the only person who can rally this country behind a plan to address it is not a U.S. Senator or a Member of Congress, not the Majority Leader or the Speaker of the House, not the countless people who write very well-informed opinion pieces in our newspapers. The only person in this country who can rally us around a plan to address this is the President himself.
“And so while I understand that he doesn’t want us engaged in another conflict, and neither do most Americans, he knows, he must know, that we are going to have to do something about this. That is not the issue before us. The issue before us is whether we do something about it now, or we do something about this later when the problem will be much harder and more costly to address.
“And so I hope the President does bring us together to solve this problem. This doesn’t need to be, and it should not be, a partisan issue. The national security of the United States should never be a partisan issue. For if terrorists carry out an attack in our homeland, they will not attack Democratic sites but not Republican sites. They will not target conservatives, but leave liberals alone. They will target Americans. Americans from every political persuasion died on 9/11. And I fear that, that may happen at some point again. So we should all care about this.
“And the only person that can bring us together to do something about it is the President. And so far he has failed to do it. Now, I don’t know if it’s because it runs counter to his political narrative that, ‘The war is over, and he got us out of Iraq.’ I don’t know why it is, but so far he has not done that, and he must.
“Mr. President, on this issue, you must lead. You must put aside all these domestic political debates that are going on in your office about how this is going to poll, or whether this runs contrary to what you said on the campaign trail. This is too important, it’s too vital, it’s too serious, and it’s too dangerous.
“Now, I have my own ideas, as do others, about what that plan should look like, but we want there to be a plan. We’re not asking the President to come forward with a plan because we’re looking for something to attack. We want him to come forward with a plan because only he can, and he must. In my opinion, that plan has to be: We must do whatever we can and everything we can to prevent this group, ISIL, from gaining operational long-term control of these territories in Iraq, and to me that means going after their command and control structure, that involves their ability to transit fighters and weapons and fuel and food and ammunition from their safe havens in Syria to their increasingly new spaces that they have now carved out for themselves in Iraq.
“But I think all of us in this chamber, when it comes to issues of national security, understand that they should not be a part of the back-and-forth of partisan politics. And I guess my plea here today on the Senate floor is, Mr. President, you must lead on this issue. You must come forward with a plan that we can rally this Congress and our people behind because if we fail to do so, I fear that our nation will pay a terrible price down the road.
“Never again can we allow an Al Qaeda-style group to establish a safe haven where they can plot against us anywhere on this planet. And the choice before you, Mr. President, is you either deal with it now or some future president and future Congresses and future Americans will deal with it later.
“I hope we will deal with it now. I hope we will remember the lessons of our recent history. And the only one who can lead us in that direction is you, Mr. President. And I hope that you will because the consequences of failing to do so would be dramatic and in my opinion will be condemned by history.
“And so I just hope that over the next few hours and the next few days, we will have the opportunity to come on this floor and advocate on behalf of a concrete plan of action that most, if not all, of us can support so that we can assure that we can say that during our time here we did everything we needed to do to keep America safe.”