Obama’s proposal targeting ISIS evokes hope, concern from local lawmakers
Southland congressional leaders voiced strong concerns Wednesday with the language and scope of President Barack Obama’s proposal to authorize limited military force against Islamic State fighters, though they welcomed the idea in principle.
If approved by Congress, the authorization would be limited to three years and would not allow “enduring offensive ground combat.” It would be the first war powers vote in more than a decade.
“My biggest concern is that a future president would feel authorized to deploy unlimited ground offensive operations against ISIS, al-Qaida and their allies, and I do not want to see large ground actions in the Middle East,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, referring to an acronym for the terrorist group that has captured large swaths of Syria and Iraq and beheaded a number of Western journalists and aid workers.
“I don’t want to authorize a future president to undertake major ground operations in the Middle East because the casualties would be significant and the foreign policy objectives would be elusive.”
While the draft proposal would repeal the 2002 authorization to use military force that paved the way for the Iraq War, it conspicuously fails to repeal the sweeping 2001 authorization for use of military force against al-Qaida — which was passed after 9/11 and which the Obama administration has interpreted to mean every kind of attack on al-Qaida or ISIS or any of its affiliates in the world, said Sherman, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thus, the president would still have virtually unlimited authority to fight al-Qaida and its affiliates, including using ground troops, without limiting its scope or duration, he said.
“It’s this 2001 resolution passed in ferocious anger that’s broad, unlimited and stretched further by President Obama that needs to be repealed and replaced rather than supplemented and reaffirmed,” Sherman said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, who introduced a bill last month that would narrowly tailor authorization for use of military force against ISIS, had similar worries. While he said he was pleased Obama has finally put specific ideas on paper and that Congress will be forced to grapple with the issue, he voiced concern about the breadth of the provision that would allow ground troops in combat for everything short of “enduring offensive” combat operations.
“That’s a very broad, vague and undefined term, which could justify everything up to 100,000 troops in a surge as long as the president puts some kind of time limit on it,” said Schiff, who is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
And since there is no end date on the original 2001 authorization to use military force passed after 9/11, the time limit the president is proposing with this new authorization “wouldn’t have much impact” since it could be superseded, Schiff said. And it could be used in other areas such as Chad or Niger, he said.
“I view this as the beginning, discussion draft and hopefully we can improve it,” Schiff said.
The key challenge for Obama is to strike the right balance between presenting to Congress a muscular authorization that will allow the U.S. alongside its allies to fight ISIS with all means necessary in Syria and Iraq while constraining the authorization so that it does not lead to the types of extended ground commitments Obama inherited from Former president George W. Bush, said Josh Lockman, a USC international law professor.
“I think this draft resolution does strike that balance well, but the overarching concern is a political one — whether the president has presented in addition to this law a credible enough plan to fight ISIS with a clear and concise strategy in the remaining years of his presidency,” he said.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said he was gratified the president is seeking specific approval from Congress but wasn’t ready to vote on the submitted resolution largely because it needs further clarifications. He echoed the belief that the 2001 authorization should be repealed and emphasized that defeating ISIS on its own is not likely to lead to a general peace in the Middle East.
“We just picked the most destructive and most ruthless, among the many destructive and ruthless,” he said.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Brea, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a joint statement of support with Rep Eliot Engel, D-New York, who serves as the committee’s ranking member. They said they intend to conduct an in-depth review of the president’s proposal starting with a hearing at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley, warned that any authorization must come with a strategy for victory.
“I call on the administration to articulate this strategy in the coming weeks and remain engaged with Congress so we can defeat ISIS and eliminate the threat they pose to our citizens and our homeland,” Cook, a retired combat Marine, said in a statement.
It’s important for the country to operate with an authorization for the use of military force in an era in which wars aren’t declared, said Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser at the Rand Corp. and an authority on terrorism.
“If we’re going to have people out there exposed to danger, to all of the risks of death or capture, then they deserve a formal expression of our support,” he said.
While there is a need for a global response to the threat and murder that ISIS represents, there also needs to be a comprehensive effort to eliminate the group and the root causes of its existence, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“If President Obama is interested in completely or drastically weakening ISIS, we need to go after the (Bashar) Assad regime” in Syria, help promote democracy and human rights in Iraq and stop supporting repressive dictatorships or military coups like the one in Egypt, he said.
“Only a true democracy that respects human rights and freedoms can create the stability and justice that can deprive ISIS from its ability to recruit new members,” Ayloush said.
Staff writers Andrew Edwards, Doug Saunders and Brian Day contributed to this report.
Source: Los Angeles Daily News
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