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Jeff F.
Republican NE 1

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  • Protecting America

    by Representative Jeff Fortenberry

    Posted on 2015-12-17

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    FORTENBERRY. Mr. Speaker, as we think about the history of America, one of our finest hours as a country came on the shores of France on D-day--June 6, 1944.

    We are all familiar with the general details of that battle--the missed zone drops of the paratroopers the night before, the slaughter that met the first assault on Omaha Beach, and the heroics of our rangers at Pointe du Hoc. But, Mr. Speaker, among the lesser known facts, the troops that hit Utah Beach, under the command of General Theodore Roosevelt, actually landed in the wrong place; and while landing with his men and realizing his error, General Roosevelt responded by saying, ``The war starts here.'' Mr. Speaker, after American forces landed on that day, fought across Europe with key allies, and, ultimately, defeated the Nazis, the United States was cast into the role of the world's lone superpower. Now, not perfectly, but at great sacrifice to our country, we then began to create the space for international order. We forged the conditions for international commerce, including helping other countries develop their economies and create governing systems rooted in high, universal ideals.

    Mr. Speaker, as we know, times have changed. We no longer live in a unipolar world, and in the wake of last month's horrifying attacks in Paris, America's longstanding ties with the French have gained a new significance. The Islamic State, called ISIL, targeted a stadium, cafes, and a theater--an act of nihilistic destruction against innocent civilians who were just beginning to enjoy their weekend.

    Beyond just destroying large swaths of the Middle East and many of its inhabitants, precipitating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, again, this so-called Islamic State has now killed French secularists and Catholics, they have attacked the Russian Orthodox by blowing up a civilian airliner, and they have killed Shiite Muslims in Beirut.

    But now, Mr. Speaker, it has happened to us. In San Bernardino, a couple embraced this twisted religious death cult, deciding to kill innocent people in order to satisfy a bizarre, apocalyptic vision.

    Mr. Speaker, foreign policy is complicated, especially in the Middle East, but this new level of terrorism has brought three critical issues into focus.

    First, the international community has a responsibility to fight ISIL. The world constantly pushes America to the forefront of needed military action, but the entire community of responsible nations, including certain Sunni Arab countries, must engage in this conflict.

    It is not the United States' responsibility alone. We can lead--we will lead--but it must be in solid concert with responsible world powers. France has now properly responded with its own air campaign, backed by our intelligence. This resolve could compel more Europeans to rethink their vulnerability and take decisive action themselves. The United Kingdom has now expanded its effort as well.

    Second, Mr. Speaker, it is time to face a gruesome reality--that the targeted and systematic violence against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in the Middle East is genocide. ``Genocide'' is a powerful word, but the world must recognize this grim reality and work to support the most vulnerable minorities in the Middle East. No responsible approach to this tragic situation unfolding in Iraq and in Syria can ignore their plight and the plight of other innocent people.

    In an attempt, Mr. Speaker, to elevate the world's consciousness about this difficulty, I have introduced H. Con. Res. 75, a resolution of the House of Representatives, calling the slaughter of Christians and other ethno-religious minorities by its proper name--genocide. Similar measures are being introduced in parliaments throughout the world.

    Christians and other vulnerable minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere must be accorded tolerance and religious liberty--one of the cornerstones of our own society. Thankfully, the resolution now has 160 bipartisan cosponsors, and it is gaining swift and broad support throughout Congress. Hopefully, we will bring this legislation to a vote for next year, and it will serve to elevate the consciousness of the world as to this horrific problem and will, perhaps, provide a gateway for constructive policy considerations.

    Christianity in the Middle East is shattered. Christians, Yezidis, and others are a vibrant but an endangered spectrum of minorities, and they need our help now. In the face of ISIL's onslaught, we must help them by forming an ecumenical alliance. We cannot afford to wait. These ancient faith traditions have every right to maintain their ancient homelands and, in turn, contribute to a stabilizing diversity of voices in both culture and new forms of governance.

    Third, the related issue of refugees and migration points to the collapse of the nation-state order. Now, granting asylum is a responsible, humanitarian impulse, but simply accommodating more asylum to the tragedy is a reaction and not a viable, long-term policy proposition and one that has to be reconciled with both national security and capacity concerns.

    Attacking the injustice that leads to refugee flight must be a top priority, followed by new political structures that allow people to remain where they are in safety or to return to their ancient homelands. This is a precondition for long-term stability in the Middle East. An immediate step could be the enforcement of safe zones, especially for the vulnerable minorities in Iraq and Syria.

    In the country of Syria, there is an old Roman road named Straight Street. It runs through the middle of the capital of Damascus. Mr. Speaker, you might remember the road from the Biblical story. After Saint Paul was blinded and knocked from his horse, God told him to visit the house of Judas and seek out a Christian named Saul. Tradition holds that the house of Judas still stands on Straight Street even today.

    Syria is an ancient country made up of peoples with mixed cultural traditions. Four years ago, as we all know, a civil war broke out. The halting and gruesome conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands and has displaced millions, is now entering a new phase with new complexities.

    The dictatorial leader of Syria, Bashar Assad, faces a shifting patchwork of enemies, including ISIL. He has clung to power in the coastal regions of that country, where he continues his dynasty's bloody rule. Ironically, he is a trained ophthalmologist who practiced for years in London, only to assume power after the death of his elder brother. It is hard to understand Assad's motive, except, perhaps, to protect his own religious minority tradition, called the Alawites.

    A couple of years ago, I predicted that Assad would not survive long, but as some uprisings descended into a winter of irrational religious extremism, causing more destabilization and helping to create the conditions for terror groups like ISIL to metastasize, Assad has tenaciously maintained control over much of western Syria. In his battle for control, his murderous regime has contested armed opposition groups, some of them also murderous, and it has all worsened the conflict. Yet, Mr. Speaker, here is a very conflicted reality: The preservation of some stability in certain Syrian zones has offered safety to other religious and ethnic minorities.

    Two years ago, the House of Representatives confronted a choice. The President called for military action against Assad after Assad's use of chemical weapons. I voted against the President's proposed intervention, as did a vast majority of my colleagues. We felt that the United States did not need to enter into another military entanglement in the Middle East, and many people expressed justifiable fears that, if Assad were overthrown, something even worse might replace his government.

    Events since then have given that fear additional credibility. Had the United States succeeded in toppling Assad, ISIL might have seized even more of that country, perhaps threatening Lebanon and gaining proximity to Israel's borders.

    Now enter Russia into the equation. During the debate over whether to strike Assad, Russia brokered a deal to help facilitate the acquisition and destruction of the government's chemical weapons, voiding the immediate possibility of a military confrontation between Washington and Damascus. Now, [[Page H9679]] 2 years later, Russia has, once again, taken an active role in the Syrian civil war, enhancing and building military bases in Assad's territory and launching air strikes against Syrian opposition groups, including ISIL.

    Several factors are influencing Putin's latest gambit to empower Assad.

    First, Putin wants to revive a Russian sense of nationalism--an almost metaphysical understanding of a Russian realm of influence. Look back at his recent speech at the U.N. He rejects a unipolar world wherein the United States sets the rules for commerce and governance and values. Furthermore, he is suspicious of liberal democracy, preferring, instead, his idea of stability even if it is achieved at the hands of strongmen.

    Second, Russia has a longstanding diplomatic, security, and economic arrangement with the Syrian Government, enabling him to expand his country's military presence there while also bolstering his political standing at home.

    Third, Syria also has a rich Orthodox Christian heritage that survives as a minority faith in Assad's controlled territory. Putin sees his venture as protecting that familial alliance. Foreign policy analysis has largely overlooked this consideration as an important dimension of Putin's motives.

    Russia claims to be fighting the terrorists. If true, their intervention could emerge as a point of convergence for the United States, Russia, and civilized interests; but that remains somewhat hypothetical at this moment, and there are significant signs of conflict escalation.

    {time} 1500 Russia could help avert humanitarian disaster by focusing more intently on attacking ISIL. Currently, Putin is also choosing to fight other Syrian opposition forces with the possibility of furthering the protracted civil war.

    The best scenario would be for Russia's involvement to create the space for a transition period for a new, more stable governing structure to replace Assad in the West. ISIL could be further pushed into the eastern desert, and a true international coalition could emerge to defeat this threat to civilization. Advancing this scenario is a key policy marker in what should be the overarching geopolitical strategy of the United States.

    Of the many possible futures for the Middle East, one must certainly be avoided: Islamic militants sweeping across places like Straight Street in Syria, continuing to destroy ancient monuments in Palmyra and Nimrod, killing all the way from Mosul to the Mediterranean, threatening to raise its black banner of death from Damascus to D.C.

    The prevention of peril in the 21st century requires a new cooperative strategic arrangement to fight dark ideology, twisted theology, and barbarism across the globe. ISIL represents ninth century barbarism, but with 21st-century weaponry. ISIL is battling the very essence of civilization. Beyond the bloodshed itself, ISIL attacks the underlying philosophical proposition of the West that all persons have inherent dignity, which is the source of our rights.

    Mr. Speaker, we stand at a solemn crossroads. The world must fight back on two fronts against ISIL and for the time-honored philosophical principles and values that sustain an orderly existence in the flourishing of any truly good society.

    So depends the beauty of Paris. So depends the protection of communities like San Bernardino. So depends the security of the world and the protection of innocent people everywhere.

    Mr. Speaker, I had an extraordinary privilege this summer on the 71st anniversary of D-day. This is a picture, a photo, of Utah Beach, one of the beaches where our troops first stormed through, where General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., came through with his men and declared, ``We'll start the war from right here.'' General Roosevelt went on 1 month later to die in battle of a heart attack. He was ill. He disguised his illness because he wanted to be in leadership with his troops.

    He is buried at the Omaha Beach Cemetery, which contains nearly 10,000 American troops who gave their lives. He is buried next to his little brother, Quentin Roosevelt, who was an aviator, a flier, in World War I. Here you have two sons of a President of the United States who gave their lives in the two great wars of last century.

    On this spot, Mr. Speaker, there is a new monument. That is a Higgins boat troop carrier with a replica of soldiers storming onto the beach. I am very proud of the fact that this monument is a replica of one that is in Columbus, Nebraska, a small town in my congressional district. It was built by the people of Columbus, shipped here, and placed for the 71st anniversary celebration of D-day.

    A great sacrifice financially and time-wise, many people in the community of Columbus came together to build this extraordinary monument as a gift to France, but primarily as a perpetual memory of those who fought and died.

    Both Quentin Roosevelt, General Roosevelt, and so many other young men and women gave their lives for a set of interlocking ideals, the beauty of liberty and the protection of human dignity, which, Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, in our fallen world, must sometimes be preserved by a willingness to confront darkness, by a willingness to confront that which is irrational.

    It is this same struggle, the same struggle that took place here, that we must engage in today. Unlike this struggle, it requires a different global effort, but it is the same struggle for the tranquility of order, for the security of the world, and for the protection of America.

    I yield back the balance of my time.


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