Obama Asks Congress to Authorize Military Action Against Islamic State

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama ’s proposal to Congress for a new resolutionthat would authorize the U.S.-led military operation against Islamic State marks the beginning of a renewed national debate over the scope of wartime powers that should be afforded to the commander-in-chief.

Mr. Obama’s proposed new Authorization for Use of Military Force, known as AUMF, drew mixed reactions on Capitol Hill after lawmakers formally received it on Wednesday. Democrats advocated for strict limitations on presidential war power, particularly on the use of ground troops; Republicans said the president needs maximum flexibility in the fight against the militant group in Syria and Iraq.

In a letter to Congress, Mr. Obama sought to assure lawmakers and war-weary Americans that his ideal AUMF wouldn’t plunge the U.S. into an extensive fight involving ground troops.

“My administration’s draft AUMF would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama wrote in a letter to Congress, warning that Islamic State militants could pose a threat to the U.S. homeland if left unchecked.

Mr. Obama calls for a three-year authorization, which would lock in the stipulations for the next president, and proposes repealing the 2002 AUMF that Congress approved to give President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. The draft proposal doesn’t repeal the 2001 AUMF, the White House’s current legal justification for the Islamic State operation, although the president reiterated his support for eventually replacing it. Operations against Islamic State fighters began in August, and Mr. Obama and the White House have said over the past several months that congressional authorization of military force is an important symbolic gesture to both allies and enemies.

The White House worked with Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the draft language in hopes of increasing its chances of winning bipartisan support.

While lawmakers in both parties expressed support for a new AUMF, saying bipartisan approval would send a message of support to American troops, the two sides showed divergent concerns that could complicate efforts to find a bipartisan coalition for passage.

House Speaker John Boehner said Mr. Obama’s request is “the beginning of a legislative process. It will involve hearings, markups and I’m sure changes as we go through the process, and so at this point I think that we’ve got an awful lot of work to do before I get into what I’m for, what I’m against.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Ohio Republican said, “Any authorization for the use of military force must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people.…I have concerns that the president’s request does not meet this standard.”

Democrats raised their own concerns about the measure, saying it may not go far enough in limiting the U.S. operations against Islamic State fighters.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the authorization needs to be more narrowly tailored in regards to geographic scope and the ability of the administration to use U.S. combat troops.

“A new authorization should place more specific limits on the use of ground troops to ensure we do not authorize another major ground war without the president coming to Congress to make the case for one,” Mr. Schiff said.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), who has been consulting with the White House for months on the issue, said the language governing the administration’s ability to use U.S. troops was too broad and vague, and vowed to try to clarify it before lawmakers vote on the authorization.

Mr. Kaine also said the emphasis needs to be on the U.S. assisting allies in the Middle East to lead the fight, “rather than carrying the unsustainable burden of policing a region that won’t police itself.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged Congress to pass the authorization, while warning that as lawmakers debate the issue they should “avoid any undue restraints” on Mr. Obama’s ability to carry out the Islamic State mission.

“The president’s draft language reflects important input from Congress, and would give our personnel the support and flexibility needed in our military operations against ISIL,” Mr. Hagel said, using an alternative name for Islamic State. “We want Congress’s full, bipartisan support in this fight because the country is stronger when both parties and both branches of government stand and work together.”

Republicans said the onus was on Mr. Obama to make the case for the authorization, both with Congress and the broader country.

“He should explain why he is seeking to tie his own hands by limiting authority that he’s already claimed,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Joe Crowley (D., N.Y.) said there was healthy skepticism to the plan during a closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to publicly address the issue Wednesday afternoon.

In his letter to Congress, Mr. Obama said his proposal provides the military with flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in limited circumstances, such as rescue operations and special operations against Islamic State leadership.

He cites the deaths of four American citizens— James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller —at the hands of Islamic State militants to emphasize the group’s threat to the U.S. Messrs. Foley, Sotloff and Kassig were all executed on video by the group, while Ms. Mueller’s death was confirmed by U.S. officials this week.

Source: Wall Street Journal