Senator Menendez is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. This is his statement, released immediately after the President’s speech televised live from West Point. – – Rosi Efthim
In seeking a range of informed and varied opinions and taking the time to carefully work through them, it is clear that President Obama understands the meaning of war, the lives that are at stake and the impact it has on thousands of families here at home. I know that he thought deeply about those risks and weighed them against the risk posed by threats to our homeland that remain in Afghanistan before coming to his decision.
I will not make a final judgment on this plan until I have had a chance to reflect upon it fully and, just as importantly, draw critical information from Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton, who we will have in front of the Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. From the time I voted against authorizing the Iraq War, I have said that our focus should have instead remained on the base of operations for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda – the terrorists who killed 3,000 people on our homeland in 2001 and are eager to kill more innocent Americans. That base is now the area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. I believe if we had not lost our focus by diverting troops and resources to Iraq, we could have captured or killed bin Laden and exterminated al Qaeda by now.
Though we lost precious strategic advantages and international support in the years since, I still believe today that we must finish the job by capturing or killing bin Laden and dismantling al Qaeda. I do not, however, believe that acting as a national police force for Afghanistan on an indefinite basis is worthwhile – American troops will be killed unnecessarily and it will further drain our national budget during an economic recession. Therefore, my preference has been toward a targeted military operation that emphasizes counter-terrorism and focuses on routing al Qaeda, rather than engaging in other flare-ups around Afghanistan. This strategy goes hand-in-hand with what I have insisted upon in our Pakistan policy, which is more pressure on the Pakistanis to go after the terrorists on their side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
I will measure the president’s plan and the testimony that will be presented before the Foreign Relations Committee on the basis of these principles, and based on that, I will make a final assessment of the plan. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with our troops currently serving in harm’s way.