Joining NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams from Washington D.C. is New Jersey’s United States Senator Robert Menendez, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Williams: Thank you for being with us Senator. What does it mean that France has officially declared war on ISIS?
Menendez: It means obviously that France will use all of its resources. It obviously is seeking to have a NATO summit on the issue. We don’t know whether France will seek to evoke article five of the NATO charter which says that an attack on one is an attack on all, but that will be part of a discussion. Obviously the attacks that France levied against Raqqa, the supposed capital of where ISIL emanates from and works from, is part of their response. So we certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with them and now the question is what does that mean in terms of action.
Williams: President Obama has said sending in ground troops would be a mistake. What do you think the U.S. should be doing?
Menendez: I think that we need this coalition to be a coalition of action. We need, for example in my mind, to have a no-fly zone with a safe harbor that would be able to take Syrian refugees right into their own county into a safe zone where they could regroup and ultimately seek to fight for their own freedom. But right now there is nothing but the option of flee, so I think a no-fly zone has now come to be critical for a variety of reasons, including fighting ISIL and creating the wherewithal from which to fight them, and thirdly stopping the hemorrhaging of refugees by giving them a place that is safe to stay within their own country. Secondly, I think we need to embed special forces closer up to the line as trackers, so that our bombings can be more precise.
Williams: Are you talking about boots on the ground?
Menendez: I’m talking about the special forces that already the president has sent, but he sends them way behind the line. And so it seems to me that we need to embed them further up, so that they can be trackers and ultimately determine what our bombing sites are so that we can be more successful at it.
Williams: What I’m not hearing from you is any hint that there might be a declaration of war; that we evoke the war act. The last time Congress granted those war powers it was in the emotional heat that was September 11. Was there a cautionary tale in that?
Menendez: Well, first of all, the administration takes the view that the powers that they need to fight ISIL, they have under the September 11 authorization. Many of us believe that that authorization has been extended too far and too wide and there should be a specific request and a specific strategy as it relates to ISIL and that Congress should authorize that if it wishes to do so.
Williams: Some 75 Syrian refugees have settled here in New Jersey this year. The president says calls to reject them now, as many governors are doing, is shameful. Under what circumstances do you think the United States should be accepting Syrian refugees?
Menendez: Well under the most exhaustive effort to make sure that screening takes place, and lets be honest, over the course of the last four years a total of 2,000 Syrian refugees have come to the United States. That’s about 500 a year, and the reason for the so little number is because we do have an exhaustive process to make sure that we are screening individuals so they are not associated with Jihad and not associated with terrorists groups. That has to be the priority. But as long as we retain that as our priority and use all of our intelligence then we can continue to consider Syrian refugees under that basis.