President Obama sends Congress proposal to formally authorize war against ISIS

February 11, 2015 3:22 pm

President Obama on Wednesday released a proposal to formally
authorize war against the Islamic State, while including limitations
that would bar “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”
The request kicks off what is likely to be a drawn-out debate in
Congress, with hawkish lawmakers sure to push for a broader
authorization and anti-interventionist voices seeking more limits. The
White House insists it already has the authority to launch airstrikes
against militants in and , as the U.S. has been doing for
months, but wants Congress to sign off in order to demonstrate American
unity.

In a letter to lawmakers accompanying the request, Obama urged
lawmakers to “show the world we are united in our resolve to counter the
threat.” The proposal, obtained by Fox , would limit authorization
to three years, with no restrictions on where U.S. forces could pursue
the threat. However, the language bars “enduring offensive combat
operations,” an ambiguous term intended as compromise between lawmakers
who want authority for ground troops and those who don’t.
The letter from Obama says the authorization would not allow
“long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those” conducted
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The proposed resolution itself nevertheless underscores the “grave
threat” posed by ISIS, highlighting its atrocities in the region,
including executions of American hostages and the “abduction,
enslavement, torture, rape and forced marriage” of women and girls in
the region.
“It threatens American personnel and facilities located in the region
and is responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens James Foley, Steven
Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller,” Obama said in
his letter, listing the American hostages who died in ISIS custody. “If
left unchecked, ISIL will pose a threat beyond the ,
including to the homeland.”
Obama plans to speak on his request from the White House Wednesday afternoon, at 3:30 p.m.
Obama’s proposal launches an ideological debate over what authorities
and limitations the commander in chief should have in pursuit of the
extremists, with the shadow of lost American lives hanging over its
fate. Confirmation of the death of 26-year-old humanitarian worker
Mueller on the eve of Obama’s proposal added new urgency, while the
costly long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a caution to some
lawmakers against yet another protracted military campaign.
Obama is offering to limit authorization to three years, extending to
the next president the powers and the debate over renewal for what he
envisions as a long-range battle. He is proposing no geographic
limitations where U.S. forces could pursue the elusive militants. The
authorization covers the Islamic State and “associated persons or
forces,” defined as those fighting on behalf of or alongside IS “or any
closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United
States or its coalition partners.”
Obama’s resolution would repeal a 2002 authorization for force in
Iraq but maintain a 2001 authorization against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan,
although Obama said in his letter to lawmakers his goal is to refine and
ultimately repeal that authorization as well.
“The authorization I propose would provide the flexibility to conduct
ground combat operations in other more limited circumstances, such as
rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or the use of
special operations forces to take military action against ISIL
leadership,” Obama said, using an acronym for the group. “It would also
authorize the use of U.S. forces in situations where ground combat
operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection
and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes or the provision of
operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner
forces.”
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, said he appreciated the president seeking the
authorization and would quickly begin holding “rigorous hearings” on the
White House request.
“Voting to authorize the use of military force is one of the most
important actions Congress can take, and while there will be
differences, it is my hope that we will fulfill our constitutional
responsibility, and in a bipartisan way, pass an authorization that
allows us to confront this serious threat,” Corker said.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the provision would
allow special operations missions, such as potential raids targeting
Islamic State leaders and the failed attempt last summer to rescue the
26-year-old Mueller and other hostages held by the group. “It’s
impossible to envision every scenario where ground combat troops might
be necessary,” Earnest told the Associated Press in the White House’s
first interview laying out its case for the resolution.
Obama argues the congressional authorizations President George W.
Bush used to justify military action after 9/11 are sufficient for him
to deploy more than 2,700 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security
forces and conduct ongoing airstrikes against targets in Iraq and
Syria. Critics have said Obama is overstepping outdated authorities to
target the new threat from militants imposing a violent form of Sharia
law in pursuit of the establishment of an Islamic state.
 President
Barack Obama asked Congress on Wednesday to formally authorize the use
of military force in the war against ISIS, the first time a U.S.
President has asked for such authorization in 13 years.

Lawmakers
on Wednesday morning received a draft Authorization for the Use of
Military Force, a resolution that would formally authorize a six-month
U.S. military effort against the militant group. Shortly after the
request was sent to the Hill, the White House announced Obama would
speak to the public on the issue Wednesday afternoon.
The
joint resolution would limit the President’s authority to wage a
military campaign against ISIS to three years and does not authorize
“enduring offensive ground combat operations,” according to text of the
resolution.
In a letter to Congress,
Obama explained that the draft resolution would give him the authority
to authorize “ground combat operations in limited circumstances,”
including rescue operations and special forces operations to “take
military action against ISIL leadership.”
The
resolution would also sunset the 2002 AUMF that spawned the Iraq War.
Obama withdrew American troops from Iraq in 2011, but the military
authorization remains in effect.
The
resolution drafted by the White House does not repeal the 2001 military
force authorization that has served as the legal justification for the
military campaign against ISIS and other U.S. military efforts to combat
terrorism around the world.
The
document also specifically notes that ISIS poses a “grave threat” to
U.S. national security interests and regional stability.
And Obama detailed the ISIS threat in a letter to Congress accompanying the draft legislation.
“The
so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses a threat to
the people and stability of Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East,
and to U.S. national security,” Obama writes. “It threatens American
personnel and facilities located in the region and is responsible for
the deaths of U.S. citizens”
As in the
draft resolution, Obama goes on to name the Americans killed in ISIS
captivity, “including James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter
Kassig, and Kayla Mueller.”
There is
broad support in Congress for a formal AUMF, though lawmakers disagree
on the scope of the military powers that should be handed to the
President.
House Republican leaders
were quick to dismiss the White House draft authorization as too
limited, insisting that the President should have fewer limitations.
“If
we are going to defeat this enemy, we need a comprehensive military
strategy and a robust authorization, not one that limits our options,”
House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”
Boehner’s
No.2, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, echoed Boehner’s support for an AUMF as well
as his criticism of the limits the White House’s draft would impose.
“I
am prepared to support an Authorization for Use of Military Force
(AUMF) that provides new legal authorities to go after ISIL and other
terrorist groups. However, I will not support efforts that impose undue
restrictions on the U.S. military and make it harder to win,” McCarthy
said in a statement.
Obama urged
Congress during his State of the Union address to formally authorize the
military campaign to “show the world that we are united in this
mission.”
As he has said in the past,
Obama noted in his letter to Congress Wednesday that he already has the
authority to fight ISIS, “I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to
working with the Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use
of military force” against ISIS.
Obama
also stressed that the White House’s draft resolution would constrain
the U.S. military effort and would not authorize “long-term, large-scale
ground combat operations” like in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While
Obama did not repeal the 2001 military authorization, he explained in
his letter that he remains “committed to working with Congress and the
American people to refine, and ultimately repeal, the 2001 AUMF.”
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