Obama to Seek War Power Bill From Congress, to Fight ISIS
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has informed lawmakers that the president will seek a formal authorization to fight the Islamic State that would prohibit the use of “enduring offensive ground forces” and limit engagement to three years. The approach offers what the White House hopes is a middle way on Capitol Hill for those on the right and left who remain deeply skeptical of its plans to thwart extremist groups.
The request, which could come in writing as early as Wednesday morning, would open what is expected to be a monthslong debate over presidential war powers and the wisdom of committing to another unpredictable mission in the Middle East while the nation is still struggling with the consequences of two prolonged wars.
Congress has not voted to give a president formal authority for a military operation since 2002 when it backed George W. Bush in his campaign to strike Iraq after his administration promoted evidence, since discredited, that Saddam Hussein’s government possessed unconventional weapons.
The new request to conduct military operations would repeal that authorization. But it would leave in place the broad authority to counter terrorism that Congress granted Mr. Bush in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks, which many Democrats now believe is being interpreted too broadly to justify military actions that were never intended.
After more than a decade of war and 7,000 American military lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama will face doubts not only from Democrats who want stricter limitations set on where he can send troops and how long his authority will last, but also from Republicans, who are dubious of the administration’s strategy for defeating the Islamic State extremist group.
The White House has tried to address concerns by drafting a resolution that tries to be both circumscribed and flexible. It would explicitly disallow extended use of combat forces, lawmakers and aides who are familiar with the plan said Tuesday. That language is intended as a compromise to ease concerns of members in both noninterventionist and interventionist camps: those who believe the use of ground forces should be explicitly forbidden, and those who do not want to hamstring the commander in chief.
The resolution also requests authority to wage battle beyond the fight against the Islamic State to include “associated forces.” It would contain no geographic limitations. Both are sticking points for many Democrats, who expressed concern that the president was setting the country up for another open-ended conflict.
Those tensions surfaced on Tuesday as Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, visited the Capitol to present Democrats with the outlines of the language the White House plans to send to Congress. By most accounts, he faced a skeptical audience.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said as he left the meeting that he had “grave reservations” and that he had “yet to be convinced.”
Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, echoed the concerns of many lawmakers who are worried that giving the president approval would only reward a decade of mismanagement in the Middle East. “If money or military might would change that part of the world, we’d be done a long time ago,” he said. “In West Virginia, we understand the definition of insanity.”
The Obama administration has insisted that it does not need Congress’ authority to continue its military campaign. But an affirmative vote from Congress would bolster the legitimacy that the president already claims as commander in chief in the battle against the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, and confer a stronger legal underpinning for his actions.
Many Republicans, despite opposing Mr. Obama on almost every other issue, seem willing to give him that authority.
“I have disagreements with the president’s conduct of foreign policy and what he’s done,” said Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “But in this instance, we need an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Our enemies and our allies need to know that we speak with one voice.”
In a reflection of how strained relations between the White House and congressional Republicans remain, reaction to the president’s proposal in many corners of the Capitol on Tuesday was that of grudging acceptance.
“You go to war with the president you’ve got, which would give us all pause,” said Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois. Asked whether he had reservations about voting to approve Mr. Obama’s request, Mr. Kirk did not hesitate. “No. I think it’s the right thing to do to take these guys out.”
Administration officials refused to discuss what was in their proposal, saying it would be made public shortly.
With the exception of some more libertarian-leaning lawmakers who will oppose the president because they object in principle to getting involved in another war, Mr. Obama’s biggest problems may not be with Republicans but with Democrats.
The sharpest debate is likely to focus on the prohibition of “enduring offensive ground operations” and whether that term is so vague that it could allow Mr. Obama or a future president to launch the kind of ground war that so many lawmakers fear. Because the president would not need to go back to Congress to seek another Islamic State force authorization until 2017, the legislation would cover the next president as well.
“Unless that is further defined, that might be seen as too big a statement to ultimately embrace,” said Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. “Because forget about Barack Obama. There will be a new president in two years. And this authorization would go into that new presidency.”
Some Democrats expressed another concern: The president’s plan does not repeal the 2001 force authorization. Many believe the Bush and Obama administrations have stretched that authorization to justify actions that Congress never intended.
“The administration is making a good-faith effort to bridge the gulf between members on what the limits ought to be,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, adding that he was uncomfortable with much of what he has seen floated, especially the lack of a 2001 repeal.
“If you don’t sunset that,” he said, “any sunset you put in a new authorization is pretty meaningless because any president can rely on the 2001 authority to claim they have all they need.”
But regardless of what parameters Congress sets on the president, the White House has made clear that it believes it is already operating well within its constitutional authority. And its proposal indicates that the administration is planning for an extended and expanding fight.
The omission of any language setting geographic boundaries appeared to anticipate the possibility of attacking the group should it gain a foothold in Lebanon or Jordan, which has fought off sporadic attacks from Islamic State fighters. It could also be used to address future threats from small bands of violent Islamist militants in Libya, Yemen and other Middle Eastern and North African countries that have “rebranded” their identities to take the Islamic State name, and benefit from its notoriety, American officials said.
Source: New York Times
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