In seeking new war powers, the White House must reconcile demands from Democrats who don't want another ground war with Republicans who want that option left open, congressional officials said Monday.
Obama is expected to send Capitol Hill on Tuesday his blueprint for an updated authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF. Haggling then begins on writing a new authorization to battle the Sunni extremists, who have seized territory in Iraq and neighboring Syria and imposed a violent form of Shariah law.
Obama so far has relied on congressional authorizations that former President George W. Bush used to justify military action after 9/11. Critics say the White House's use of these authorizations to fight IS is a legal stretch at best. The president earlier insisted that he had the legal authority to deploy 2,763 U.S. troops in Iraq to train and assist Iraqi security forces, and conduct ongoing airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. More recently, the president has said he wants a new authorization, but has not released details.
A congressional official said the president will ask for a three-year authorization so that the next president will have to seek renewed authority to fight IS. The official said Obama wants to leave open the option to send in combat forces if needed, but is not seeking an authorization that would permit a prolonged U.S. troop presence on the ground. The White House request also would not restrict the fight to certain geographic locations, but would limit the U.S. to fighting IS militants or any future group that they become, the official said.
One congressional aide said Democrats will not rubber-stamp the White House version, but will seek to rewrite it to include bipartisan views. Another congressional staffer said the debate in Congress will not necessarily flow along party lines because conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, for instance, have disagreed about two major sticking points: Deploying U.S. combat troops and restricting the geographical area served by the new authorization. The second staffer said a final authorization will depend on the language decided on these two issues.
The congressional official and staffers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing negotiations with the White House.
Generally, conservatives want Congress to approve broad authorities for the president to fight IS with no limits on ground troops or geography. They say banning U.S. combat troops or restricting the fight to Iraq and Syria emboldens the militants, who would not have to worry about attacks from U.S. ground forces and could seek safe haven outside those two nations. Other lawmakers want the new war powers to be narrowly defined to something that gives the president the authority to train and equip local forces, conduct airstrikes but not launch a combat mission on the ground.
In December, Secretary of State John Kerry offered Congress a preview of what the White House would want in an authorization measure. But it's not clear if any of the provisions Kerry mentioned to lawmakers still reflects the administration's thinking.
Kerry said at the time that Congress should not limit U.S. military action to Iraq and Syria or prevent the president from deploying ground troops if he later deems them necessary. Kerry also said that the confrontation against IS will not be over quickly and that while the administration does not seek an open-ended authorization, it wants it to include a provision that would allow for it to be extended.
Kerry said then that the administration would like to see an authorization that does not include a geographical limitation. Moreover, Kerry said the administration wants to make sure that any authorization does not too narrowly define militants found alongside IS because it would, for example, make it difficult for the U.S. military officials on the ground to identify enemy forces.
Before Congress ended its last session in December, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pushed his version of an authorization that would have limited operations against IS to three years and allow ground forces in some circumstances. The legislation passed out of the committee, but was never voted on by the full Senate before the session ended. It also would have compelled Obama to provide Congress with a comprehensive strategy and repeal the Bush administration's 2002 Iraq war authorization.
© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.