Tags: obama | democrats | isis | plan

Obama Plan on Fighting ISIS Leaves Democrats Skeptical

Wednesday, 11 February 2015 06:56 AM

Top Democrats remained skeptical of a White House plan for using force against Islamic State extremists, saying the Obama administration is going too far in seeking the right to send ground troops on certain missions.

The objections, coming shortly before the release of President Barack Obama’s formal proposal on force, set up the possibility that Democrats may stand in the way of a president of their own party even as Republicans give him the support he needs to proceed.

The split among Democrats reflects lingering divisions in the party left from the Iraq war. Some Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate and then a U.S. senator, backed President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, while the anti-war wing of the party objected. That split helped Obama defeat Clinton in the 2008 presidential contest.

With Republican support, Obama may still be able to win passage of the authorization. White House aides were on Capitol Hill Tuesday trying to rally Democratic support. The effort wasn’t entirely successful and even Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, suggested the White House still had work to do.

After White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and counsel Neil Eggleston briefed senators on the administration’s proposal, Reid said there were “no conclusions reached.”

“It was a good, good beginning discussion,” Reid told reporters. 

The administration’s proposal would authorize military action for three years and would be narrowly focused on the fight against Islamic State, said lawmakers of both parties who were briefed on it. That time period means the next president would have to return to Congress for further action.

Language on ground forces is at the center of what may become the most contentious debate in years on the U.S. role in the Middle East.

The Obama plan would bar “enduring” offensive ground operations and would end the 2002 authorization of the use of military force against Iraq, according to the lawmakers.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland is among Democrats who said they’re concerned the administration’s plan won’t go far enough in limiting ground forces.

“We should not give authority that could be used for introducing ground troops,” Cardin said Tuesday. He said he told administration officials of his views “so I think they know where I am.” 

Maine Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said that the language is meant to distinguish between “special forces going in for a period of a few days” and a long-term deployment of ground troops.

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, the chamber’s second- ranking Democrat, said members of his party asked “a lot of questions” of White House officials, particularly on the “enduring” language and whether that did enough to limit ground troop involvement.

“We’re really working on critically important language, and it comes down to a phrase or two, and we just have to look at it very carefully,” Durbin said.

Republicans have said they think ground troops should be an option.

“I don’t think you can be the most powerful nation in the world and have the history we have of fighting for democracy and freedom, and totally eliminating the possibility of using forces if they’re needed,” said Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican.


White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a press briefing on Tuesday that Obama doesn’t want to see “a large number of combat troops” in Iraq or Syria. The proposal may extend past 2017 when Obama leaves office, he said.

Earnest said the final document may be released this week, and that the president wants Congress to act “relatively soon.”

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who was among party leaders briefed Tuesday evening, said afterward, “We have to hear what the actual scope is. I do think there should be an authorization.”

Representative Steve Israel of New York endorsed the White House proposal after attending the briefing.

“I think what the administration is proposing is sensible,” Israel said. “It gives the president the tools that he needs without overextending.”

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel of New York, said, “I’m not looking to bog us down in another war. But I’m not looking to tie the president’s hands, either.”

The full House Democratic caucus is set for a briefing from Eggleston on Wednesday morning. Senate Republicans will meet later in the day to discuss the request for military force authorization, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, told reporters.

A number of Senate Democrats, including some on the Foreign Relations Committee, have said they want to use language approved by the panel in December before Republicans took control of the Senate at the start of this year. 

That measure would have imposed a three-year limit and would have banned “large-scale U.S. ground combat operations.” It didn’t advance before the session ended.

A further sticking point is the authorization’s geographic scope, which Democrats say should be limited. King said the administration’s proposal would provide no geographic restrictions on pursuing Islamic State.

Limiting the resolution to target Islamic State forces “will allow Bashar Assad to butcher all he wants to,” said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, referring to the Syrian president. “That’s insane.”

“The president’s the commander in chief, and I believe we should not constrain his military actions,” McCain told reporters.

The debate over war powers probably will spill into the 2016 presidential campaign, much as the Iraq war became an issue in the 2008 campaign.

Several Republicans considering running for president are in the Senate and would have to vote on the authorization, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.

Obama approved air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in August and has deployed trainers and advisers to assist the Iraqi military, though he has repeatedly said he won’t send U.S. ground forces.

Obama relied on Bush’s 2002 Iraq war authorization to begin the bombing campaign, angering some Democrats who saw the move as presidential overreach. Obama said in November he would seek authorization from Congress for the effort.

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Top Democrats remained skeptical of a White House plan for using force against Islamic State extremists, saying the Obama administration is going too far in seeking the right to send ground troops on certain missions.The objections, coming shortly before the release of...
obama, democrats, isis, plan
Wednesday, 11 February 2015 06:56 AM
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