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The Eagle: America must maintain a strong defense

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BRYAN, January 23, 2016 | Andre Castro (202-225-6105) | comments
By U.S. Rep. Bill Flores

The Declaration of Independence states that we have inalienable rights, among them, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, our Founding Fathers believed that the top priority of the federal government is to provide for the common defense of our nation.

Now, more than ever, the state of our national security is the number one issue on the minds of most Americans, and rightly so. The United States now faces an increasing number of global threats and challenges that require meaningful action not feckless discussion.

The devastating terrorist attacks in Paris last November proved that America and our allies are facing a vicious and nontraditional enemy that recognizes no geographic or moral boundaries. The December 2015 attacks in San Bernardino, California, grimly highlighted this fact. The global terror campaign of the Islamic State has resulted in some of the deadliest attacks in America and in Europe since Sept. 11.

In the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran continues its aggressive posturing against the United States and our allies. Since the signing of President Barack Obama's naïve nuclear agreement, Iran has fired missiles near our naval ships, captured and detained members of our military, violated U.N. Security Council resolutions and increased its stockpile of low enriched uranium -- all despite the nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic additionally continues its material support to the terrorist organization Hezbollah, continues threatening Israel, America's most important ally in the region, and continues to sow the seeds of chaos and death in Syria by propping up the Assad regime.

Compounding our challenges in the Middle East, America faces other threats around world, including an ever-expansionist China in the South China Sea, an aggressive and rearmed Russia that is focused on testing NATO's resolve, and the rise of other militant Islamic terrorist organizations in Somalia and Nigeria.

House vote
In the wake of the recent Paris terrorist attacks, the House voted to fix one of our most pressing internal security weaknesses, our international visa waiver program. Previously, the visa waiver program allowed anyone with a passport from one of the 38 participating visa waiver countries to enter into the United States without applying for a visa and without a basic background check. To address this immediate threat, the Congress tightened control over the program by eliminating the possibility of a terrorist entering one of the visa waiver countries, obtaining a passport, boarding a flight to the United States and entering our country undetected. These safeguards will help make America safer from potential terrorist threats to our homeland.

Another security gap the House addressed in late 2015 was the lack of appropriate counterterrorism screening of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The SAFE Act would halt the Unites States' acceptance of refugees until proper safeguards and background checks are enacted to fully verify refugee identities and intentions. While we remain sympathetic to the plight of millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees displaced by the rise of IS and the brutality of the Iranian-backed Assad regime, the refugee resettlement program remains a vulnerable and exploitable program which could be used by terrorist organizations to infiltrate the United States. Not only was a refugee program exploited in Paris, but the FBI just recently apprehended two Iraqi refugees with ties to IS, one in Houston and another in California. Unfortunately, last week, a group of senators, led by Minority Leader Harry Reid, irresponsibly blocked further consideration of this widely-supported, bipartisan bill.

While securing our homeland remains essential, the United States must aggressively maintain its forward military presence. The recently passed omnibus appropriations bill funds our national defense and homeland security at the increased levels necessary to confront the growing threats posed by an increasingly dangerous world.

Budget process
As the House begins to put forth its budget and start the appropriations process for fiscal year 2017, it is imperative we provide our military and troops with the resources and the authority they need to fight and defeat the threats that exist in the world today. We also should be looking into rebuilding and augmenting our Navy to ensure that it truly remains a global force for good and a vital instrument of American power projection. The 272 ships currently in our fleet are not sufficient to meet global challenges. As we work through the funding process, we must provide for a strong national defense in a fiscally responsible manner that reforms procurement and includes strict oversight to eliminate waste and improve efficiencies.

Under Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution, Congress shall "raise and support armies" and "provide and maintain a navy." These enumerated powers remain the federal government's most important responsibility: "to provide for the common defense" of our Nation.

This is why I strongly believe Congress should support fully our military's fight against the Islamic State's barbarism through an Authorized Use of Military Force -- AUMF -- or Declaration of War against IS. There are, however, many challenges that arise when considering an AUMF or Declaration, especially given the lack of confidence many of us have in the president's ability to come up with a plan to destroy IS.

Updated AUMF
My House colleagues and I currently are discussing what a Declaration of War or an updated AUMF should look like and provisions it must contain. One point that most of us can agree on is that we must ensure that our military commanders have the capabilities and authorities needed to eradicate IS -- not the limited rules of engagement imposed upon them by an administration prone to lead by inaction.

Many challenges lie ahead for Congress in 2016, but our nation's security must remain at the forefront. It is essential that we employ all available resources to stop a nuclear Iran, defeat IS and protect our homeland.

We can accomplish these goals by adopting and building upon Ronald Reagan's "peace through strength" approach to national security. The world is safer when America is strong and I remain committed to restoring that strength.

• Bill Flores of Bryan represents Texas District 17 in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To read this article as published, click here.  
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