The Cable

Kerry: Lawmakers Shouldn’t Limit Pentagon Options in Islamic State Fight

Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday asked his former colleagues to pass a new war authorization that would give President Barack Obama flexibility in the fight against the Islamic State in terms of how U.S. combat troops would be used, the location of operations against the group, and the duration of the fight. While ...

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Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday asked his former colleagues to pass a new war authorization that would give President Barack Obama flexibility in the fight against the Islamic State in terms of how U.S. combat troops would be used, the location of operations against the group, and the duration of the fight.

While insisting that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against al Qaeda gave Obama the legal authority to bomb Islamic State positions without further congressional action, the president, in the wake of midterm elections losses, changed course and last month asked Congress to sign off. Kerry warned members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee not to micromanage decisions the president or military commanders would have to make on the battlefield in drafting a new AUMF.

“The president wants to preserve the flexibility that he believes we need,” Kerry said. “He’s prepared to work to try to arrive at an understanding of how we can do that.”

Kerry said that the White House is on board with many parts of the authorization drafted by Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). But incoming Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) warned that, despite Tuesday’s hearing and despite leaving open time to mark up a new authorization on Thursday, one is not likely to hit the Senate floor before the 113th Congress concludes, which it is expected to do on Thursday.

“We’re not going to do anything that passes, unfortunately. I don’t think that is good for our nation,” Corker said.

Corker was echoing his boss, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who on Monday said the Senate would send the bill authorizing the use of force to the president next year.

On many issues, most committee members and the White House appear to on the same page. The administration seeks approval to confront the Islamic State for three years, with an option for the next president to extend the fight. The White House also wants to be able to engage the Islamic State. also known as ISIS and ISIL, beyond Syria and Iraq if it gains footholds in neighboring countries. Neither proposal met much resistance.

What exactly ground troops can and cannot do looks like the biggest sticking point.  Although Kerry insisted the White House does not intend to put troops in combat roles, he also warned senators against limiting the Pentagon’s options.

“We should not bind the hands of the commander in chief … None of us can imagine all of the circumstances that could arise. What happens if chemical weapons fall into the hands of ISIL?” Kerry asked.

Some lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), blasted the Obama administration for not submitting draft legislation. Democrats also want the White House to take the first crack. Last week, Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii.) sent a letter to the White House calling on it to write a proposal.

“While we must take action to combat the threat posed by ISIL, we do not believe that you possess sufficient authority to undertake the current U.S. military campaign against ISIL,” the duo wrote.

 Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

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