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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Nomination of Charles Timothy Hagel to Be Secretary of Defense—Continued

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-02-26

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    DURBIN. Madam President, as everyone in the Senate knows, and people across the United States, with the sad passing of Senator Daniel Inouye in December, there were a number of changes that were made in the Senate Appropriations Committee--a committee which Senator Inouye skillfully chaired until his passing. He also chaired the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and served our Nation with the kind of leadership that only a person with his distinguished military service could give.

    With this unfortunate change of events, I found myself unexpectedly in a new role as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. I never would have guessed 2 months before that it was even in the realm of possibility. Given this new role, I thought it was appropriate and worthwhile during the recent recess to take a firsthand look at some of what our military is doing in an often overlooked part of the world-- Africa--and in the nearby gulf.

    Before I go any further, let me note how impressed I always am on these trips that no matter where we go in any corner of the world, there is an outpost of America's finest--our diplomatic personnel serving on the front lines and representing the best of our values. They are often joined by American development and military personnel, helping to improve the lives of host nation populations, providing training and security in the area.

    I want to thank all of the Ambassadors, their staff, and others who made great personal sacrifice to make my recent short, quick visit a great success.

    My first stop last week was Uganda--a good friend of the United States located in a difficult neighborhood of central Africa. Many know that Uganda was recognized around the world for its early efforts to stem the spread of AIDS at a time when many other African nations were in complete denial. Some of that progress has waned over the years, but there has been a renewed effort to rebuild on earlier success.

    Uganda is also helping to lead negotiations with various factions involved in the violence in eastern Congo, also known as the rape capital of the world. Last year, the armed rebel group M23 overran key parts of this eastern Congo, bringing further human suffering to an already scarred part of Africa. I want to acknowledge the constructive role Uganda has played in moving these talks forward.

    Uganda is also home--originally--to the horrific actions of the Lord's Resistance Army, an army group led by a messianic and violent warlord named Joseph Kony. Kony and the LRA's brutality were once again in the spotlight last year when the group Invisible Children launched an online video detailing more than 20 years of brutal LRA violence, including murder, rape, kidnapping, and the dragooning of child soldiers. To date, this video has had almost 100 million viewers.

    In Uganda, I had the chance to meet with two impressive people who were victims of the Lord's Resistance Army. They witnessed some horrific acts.

    One young man met with us at the Ambassador's residence. This Lord's Resistance Army invaded his village, dragged all the young men out, put them in a circle, and said: You are about to become soldiers in the army. Before you become soldiers, though, you will be asked to kill your family.

    Many of them could not believe it. This young man said he was praying they would spare his father. They [[Page S834]] brought his father in front of him and murdered him, as the child looked on. Then he was brought into service for 6 months, roaming through the jungles, fighting on behalf of this Lord's Resistance Army, until there was an opportunity for him to escape. He has turned his life around. It is hard to imagine anyone could after those horrible experiences, but he has.

    Next to him was Lilly, a beautiful young woman. She too was kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army and forced into unspeakable things for the time she was under their control, until she too escaped.

    The good news in both of those stories is they have made a life since then, and they have tried to help others who have been victimized by this kind of kidnapping. These horrible things are occurring in Africa, and we have decided to help. With the Ugandans, we are working to put Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army out of business. We have pushed them out of Uganda. We now believe they are in the Central African Republic.

    In 2010, Congress passed a bill led by a former colleague and great champion of Africa, a friend and former colleague of the Presiding Officer, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, called the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, an important step forward--and it was. I was proud to cosponsor the bill. As a result, last year, President Obama--because of the Feingold legislation--sent 100 U.S. military personnel to help the Ugandan Army track down and bring an end to the Lord's Resistance Army menace.

    I met in the bush with our military in Uganda that was following up on this Feingold legislation. I can't tell you what a remarkable job they are doing under very difficult circumstances.

    The LRA is on the run. Defections are increasing and formerly terrorized communities are starting to live without fear. There is still more to be done, but I was impressed and proud of how the United States stepped up and is doing something that will be remembered for generations by the Ugandan people.

    Let me also take a moment to mention another issue in Uganda. There is a proposed law pending before the Parliament in Uganda that would literally criminalize homosexuality, in some cases even imposing the death penalty. This is a cruel piece of legislation that has been met by global condemnation and concern. I met with the activists in Uganda who fear for their personal safety if this bill becomes law, a fear that I believe, unfortunately, is warranted.

    I and others have appealed to the Ugandan Government not to tarnish its international reputation and impose criminal penalties against people simply because of their sexual orientation. Uganda must continue to be a leader in the region, something this legislation will substantially erode. I hope ultimately common sense will prevail and the Ugandan Parliament will not pass this terrible legislation.

    While few have ever heard of a small, hardscrabble country in the Horn of Africa called Djibouti, it is one of the most strategic pieces of real estate in the world. Tens of thousands of ships pass through the nearby shipping lanes every year. Over 30,000 vessels, 40 percent of all the ocean traffic in the world, passes this point. The country is surrounded by violence and instability, including Yemen, just 17 miles away, and Somalia, their next-door neighbors.

    We are fortunate, therefore, to have Camp Lemonnier located in Djibouti. It is a significant U.S. military base helping to bring security and stability to a difficult neighborhood. It is not an easy location to do business. In the summer, temperatures reach 120 degrees. There is not a tree in sight in Djibouti. The country is extremely poor and opportunities for recreation and escape are almost nonexistent.

    These American service men and women are to be thanked for their dedication and long tours away from family and friends. They are playing an important role in bringing greater security to the region and helping to dramatically reduce the scourge of piracy that has so dramatically impacted the waters in recent years.

    USAID also has a major humanitarian distribution warehouse in Djibouti in which emergency food aid can be shipped quickly and efficiently throughout the region as far as Bangladesh.

    Even in faraway Djibouti, there was a woman from Illinois helping with this effort. I wish to recognize her work for a moment on the floor. Her name is Christine Karpinski. She is from Chicago, and she is part of this USAID effort to save the lives of the most vulnerable people in the world.

    Let me also note Djibouti had elections last weekend, elections the opposition is claiming were fraudulent. I wasn't there as an election observer, but certainly Djibouti can do more to open its political system. It took some notable steps with the current election, and I hope the postelection process can move forward in a peaceful manner. I also hope the Djibouti Government and other foreign powers which have significant footprints there will do more to help its own people out of poverty.

    What I saw there in terms of underdevelopment, particularly given the sizable sums being paid by foreign governments for base leases and a population of less than 1 million people, simply didn't add up. We and the Government of Djibouti have a responsibility to do more for the people who live there, especially the next generation of young people.

    In Uganda, Djibouti, and so many countries in that region, we will find 50 percent of the population under the age of 15. It is a reminder to us that the forces, the dynamic forces behind the Arab Spring in many parts of the Middle East and northern Africa are at least evident in many of these other countries that haven't been touched yet by that change.

    Lastly, I had the opportunity to visit the small gulf nation of Bahrain. It has been one of the more open and forward-thinking countries in the gulf region. It is also a close U.S. ally, home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and located in yet another difficult neighborhood bordering Iran, just across the straits.

    Bahrain has been a generous host to our Fifth Fleet. Anyone who looked at the map or followed tensions with Iran knows the importance of such a naval force in this part of the world. These dedicated sailors help keep shipping lanes open and ensure that Iran does not threaten its neighbors or U.S. interests. Their presence alone is likely to make Iran think twice about reckless moves in the Persian Gulf.

    Let me say a word about the Navy. I guess I am partial because my two late brothers both served in the Navy during the Korean war. When I get a chance to go aboard ships, I visualize my older brothers and what life must have been like in those days. When I went out with ADM John Miller to visit some of the ships in the fleet, I met some of the finest young men and women you could ever ask for. Most of them trained in Illinois at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station and now were off serving in the U.S. Navy around the world.

    No one, unless they have some experience and knowledge of the subject, could understand the enormity of the responsibility which these men and women in the Navy have. We often hear about the heroic efforts of those who were in the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force--and I certainly don't want to take anything away from them--but the important lifesaving peacekeeping jobs being done by the U.S. Navy, particularly the Fifth Fleet that I visited, cannot be overstated.

    Bahrain, incidentally, is going through its own domestic difficulties. It experienced its own Arab Spring in early 2011, one that started with a peaceful protest calling for a more open political process. That process unfortunately broke down and many demonstrators were killed or jailed. Others, sadly, were tortured.

    The Government of Bahrain did what few other countries in the region would be willing or brave enough to do. They created an outside commission to look into many issues around the uprising. A blunt and sober report was issued, and it is my hope the Government of Bahrain will abide by many of its recommendations. At the same time, I hope the opposition will seriously explore the latest attempt at dialog offered by the government as a means to address the current political impasse.

    Bahrain has so much promise and can continue to be one of the shining lights of the gulf. Both sides must renounce [[Page S835]] violence and work toward a peaceful political solution.

    Let me also note an overarching theme noted on this trip, one I mentioned before on the Senate floor, the role of China. Everywhere we went we heard time and again how China is everywhere, often at the exclusion of American businesses, investment, and influence. This pattern costs us not only lost jobs but lost diplomatic and security engagement.

    That is why, last year, Senator Boozman and I introduced a bill to create a coordinated U.S. strategy to boost U.S. exports to Africa and in turn foster American jobs. This bipartisan bill cleared the Foreign Relations, Banking and Finance Committees only to be held up at the last minute at the end of the year by Senator Toomey of Pennsylvania. To his credit, he didn't do it in a secret manner; he came to the floor and objected.

    Although I disagreed with him, I respected him for the fact that he stated his point of view. I would like to sit down with him again and any others who are skeptics about this legislation and let them know what I saw on this trip. Delaying the passing of this legislation costs us more than lost influence on the continent and jobs here at home.

    It is going to be a squandered opportunity. Think about this. In the last 10 years, the six fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa. In the next 10 years, 8 of the top 10 will be in Africa. Where are we? We are playing a distant second fiddle to China.

    What does that mean for the future? It isn't very encouraging. It is time for us to step forward and show real American leadership in this area. I appeal to those who have opposed this Africa trade bill, which Senator Boozman and I have sponsored, to take a second look and reconsider their position.

    It was an honor to visit our dedicated diplomatic, development, and military personnel. It was a reminder of the importance of indispensable contributions to U.S. policy they still play around the world in improving lives and ensuring security. These investments abroad are not only symbols of American generosity and values, they make the world safer for everyone. We should keep this in mind when we consider America's foreign assistance budget, one that includes maintaining all our embassies around the world, is just over 1 percent of the total U.S. budget.

    I yield the floor.

    I ask unanimous consent any remaining time between now and 4:30 be equally divided and that time which is in quorum calls be equally divided between those supporting and opposing the vote at 4:30.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

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