Obama war power plan in search of its first supporter
Washington — Republicans said Thursday that President Barack Obama’s request to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State group is too weak to do the job, and the House’s Democratic leader said the White House is facing a stern challenge.
“It’s going to be hard,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leader of a party that generally opposes the use of U.S. ground forces.
Republicans were troubled for far different reasons.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Obama’s proposal “ties his hands even further” than current law. The president’s draft legislation would bar “enduring offensive combat operations” and repeal a 2002 authorization that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq while leaving in force the authorization that was approved by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Boehner said the House will hold hearings, and any legislation will authorize sufficient military force to “fight the war wherever it is.”
The comments by Boehner, Pelosi and others epitomize the skeptical response from Capitol Hill as the White House searched for its first outright supporter for the measure.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Obama still “needs to make the case to the American people” and Congress. “This won’t be easy,” he said.
Referring to U.S. participation in airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, he said the “campaign isn’t pummeling the enemy as it should.”
“Congressional authority is of no value if the president isn’t willing to act decisively,” Royce said.
In the president’s own party, a new day brought new skepticism.
“We must make it clear that there is no authorization for the use of combat ground troops,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.
Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel, said coalition military operations were making good progress. He noted that Jordan has “doubled down on its commitment in the aftermath of the horrific murder” of a Jordanian pilot who was burned alive.
“But we’re not out of the woods; far from it,” Engel said.
Freshman Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a Marine veteran who served four tours in Iraq, said he was not ready to support Obama’s request until the administration presents a comprehensive strategy to ensure long-term success.
“I believe the only way to ensure the defeat of ISIL in the long term is for local forces, supported politically by moderate regional governments, to lead this fight and take ownership of their own future,” he said, using an alternative acronym for the terrorist group.
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., said he was baffled by Obama’s request.
“Why would the president be submitting to Congress a (request for use of force) that ties his hands?” Salmon asked. He said he could not imagine President Franklin D. Roosevelt standing before the American people in 1941 to say, “’Here are the five things I am not going to do to the Japanese.’ It doesn’t make sense.”
Obama was resolute as he made the case for legislation in remarks Wednesday at the White House.
“Make no mistake. This is a difficult mission,” he said, calling for action against a group that he said threatens U.S. security.
He said it will take time to dislodge the terrorists, especially from urban areas, “but our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose.”
Under Obama’s proposal, the use of military force against Islamic State fighters would be authorized for three years, not limited by national borders. The fight could be extended to any “closely related successor entity” to IS that has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria, imposed a form of Sharia law and killed several hostages it has taken, Americans among them.
While asking lawmakers to bar long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama said he wants the flexibility for ground combat operations “in other more limited circumstances.” Those include rescue missions, intelligence collection and the use of special operations forces in possible military action against IS leaders.