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Tags: Barack Obama | ISIS | war powers | Democrats | Obama

Democrats Turn Against Obama in War Powers Push

By    |   Thursday, 12 February 2015 11:06 AM

Despite a war powers request to Congress carefully worded to appease Democrats, members of President Barack Obama's own party have abandoned him in his quest for authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State.

The proposal put forward by the president on Wednesday prohibits "enduring offensive combat operations," but this is simply a ban on a large-scale army of occupation for an extended period of time, akin to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Special Operations forces would be likely be exempt from that provision.

"The 10th Mountain Division could get through that loophole," Roger Zakheim, a former general counsel for the House Armed Services Committee's Republican leadership, told The New York Times.

In fact, a variety of different types of combat troops would be permissible under the current language. But few people who know the president's intentions believe he plans to send infantry into Iraq, Syria, or other areas taken over by the Islamic State, given his repeated statements to the contrary.

Still, the wording is vague enough to keep open the possibility of committing combat troops on the ground if needed. And Democrats are fearful of opening the door to a full-scale military ground conflict, the Times reported.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat in the Senate, referred to two wars in the past decade and a half and said any legislation must avoid "repeating the missteps of the past." He added it must stay clear of an "open-ended authorization that becomes legal justification for future actions against unknown enemies, in unknown places, at unknown times."

Rep. Ted Lieu of California, a first-term Democrat, said he didn't think Obama had yet made the case that the Islamic State terrorist group "represents a direct, grave threat to the United States."

House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, issued a statement that refrained from endorsing Obama's request. It said Congress should act judiciously and promptly to pass legislation "narrowly tailored" to the fight against Islamic State fighters. She has said previously she opposes deploying U.S. "boots on the ground."

Republicans, meanwhile, have made clear they will also insist on changes in the president's plan.

House Speaker John Boehner expressed doubt it would "give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people."

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a frequent critic of Obama's foreign policy, was unsparing. He said Obama had omitted air support for U.S.-trained rebels battling Syrian President Bashar Assad, adding, "that's immoral."

Both houses intend to hold hearings on the proposal, although administration officials are not expected to be asked to testify until Congress returns from a one-week vacation that begins on Friday. Instead, the House Foreign Affairs Committee arranged to hear testimony during the day from non-government witnesses.

If the proposal is approved, it would be the first time Congress has authorized the president's use of military force since 2002 under President George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq, the Times noted.

The proposed legislation would repeal the 2002 authorization but leave in place a separate 2001 measure that authorizes the use of force against al-Qaida and its affiliates.

While Democrats are keen to avoid military engagement, Republicans say the president should have the widest possible latitude to take the measures necessary to defeat the militant group.

Military leaders believe the current wording in the proposal strikes a balance that could satisfy both camps.

"I read what the president wrote in the authorization," Lt. Gen. David Barno, a former Afghanistan war commander who is now at American University's School of International Service, told the Times.

"I think it's very flexible. He's not saying he's going to send tens of thousands of troops in, but he's reserving the right to use military forces in ground combat operations."

Barno said the current wording would allow the United States to respond to a range of combat situations with the use of ground forces, the Times reported.

If the proposal passes, the next president would need to negotiate a new request to pursue military action against the Islamic State when the authorization expires in three years.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Despite a war powers request to Congress carefully worded to appease Democrats, members of President Obama's own party have abandoned him in his request for authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State.
ISIS, war powers, Democrats, Obama
Thursday, 12 February 2015 11:06 AM
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