There is a significant voting bloc of lawmakers in the House and Senate who were veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are bringing their experience and perspective to bear on the debate about the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) as the president seeks a strategy to fight the Islamic State.
According to The New York Times
, the 26 veterans have conflicting views about the scope of the president's authority, representative of the larger struggle in Congress to reach a compromise resolution.
"One of the reasons I ran for Congress was to make sure we didn't repeat the mistakes of the past, of going into war without a clear strategy," Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a member of a National Guard medical unit in Iraq, told the Times.
For the most part, Republicans want an AUMF that will not put too many restrictions on the president's ability to send ground forces to handle the situation, while Democrats are concerned about preventing another ground war that could take years to end.
The trend in Congress has been a steady decrease in the number who had served in the military. At the beginning of the current Congress, 101 members — or 19 percent — had served or were serving compared to 70 percent in the 1970s.
But the number of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan has been rising, as has their influence, the Times said.
"They understand it's easy to go to war and it's tough to end it, and they understand the long-term effects in a very different way," Paul Rieckhoff, head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Times. "It's especially important when the president himself is not a combat veteran."
The veterans are trying to get the administration to be more specific about the role ground troops would play and the parameters of the AUMF for fighting the Islamic State. There is some skepticism about whether the American military will be able to tackle the extremism in the long run.
"If we just go in and solve their military problem, propping up the Iraqi military, I guarantee we'll be back there solving it again three or four years down the road," Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, who served with the Marines in Iraq, told the Times.
He believes a "diplomatic surge" would be a better strategy than sending ground troops.
Other veterans say they support a proposal that would not limit the president's authority to commit ground troops.
"I'm not advocating that we start deploying large battalions over the Middle East, but we do want to make sure that the military can use all elements in any domain in order to meet our military objectives," Arizona GOP Rep. Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, told the Times.
Some are concerned about the language that would prohibit the use of "enduring offensive ground forces," believing it to be too restrictive.
"When we go to war, we want to give our troops every advantage on the battlefield," Montana GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, a retired commander at SEAL Team Six, told the Times. "We don't want to have another Benghazi, where you call and all of a sudden no one is answering on the other line."
And Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who served two tours in Iraq as an Air Force pilot, was also concerned about putting limitations on the president's powers.
"We have to ask ourselves what's worse — the presence of American ground troops or the presence of ISIS," he told the Times.
A number of Democratic lawmakers who have served, however, are reluctant to send ground troops in the absence of being able to see a clear end to the conflict.
"The American military is an amazing force. We are very good at defeating the enemy, taking over territory, blowing things up," California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, who served in the Air Force, told the Times. "But America has traditionally been very bad at answering the next question, which is what do you do after that."
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