On Wednesday, President Obama formally requested that Congress grant the White House authorization to fight the Islamic State. Secretary of State John Kerry and other national security experts on Mr. Obama’s team urged lawmakers to approve the president’s request, but after a three-hour session both the Republicans and the Democrats seemed unconvinced.
Once regarded as a matter of great national importance, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS now seems to be met with a great deal of reluctance from both parties. While Democrats fear it may be too much, embroiling the United States troops in yet another prolonged ground campaign, Republicans argue it does too little to counter the terrorist threat.
However, the presidential administration underlined that it already has the legal authority to conduct military operations. The reason behind the Congressional address is, in Mr. Obama’s own words, “to show the world we are united behind this effort.”
John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “A clear and careful expression of this Congress’ backing at this point in time would expel doubt that might exist anywhere that Americans are united in this effort.”
There are two previous episodes that grant the White House authority to launch a military campaign against the Islamic State. In 2001 the president was given free hand to wage global war against Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and in 2002 President George W. Bush was granted congressional authority to go to war against Iraq.
Another argument in favor of the idea that the White House sees Congress approval as having a more symbolic than actual importance is ground reality. The US military has already been conducting operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq for months.
Republican Senator Rand Paul expressed his frustration concerning the issue, underlining that the Congress’approvalmay actually be “inconsequential.” He views the president’s message to the Senators to be something like “we want y’all to pass something, but it doesn’t really matter.”
Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said that while he can’t name a single one of his Democratic adversaries to actually support the White House request, Republicans still do not believe the strategy will be effective.
The Republicans also tied the president’s present demand to the attempt to make Iran sign a deal on its nuclear program. After the letter they recently sent to Tehran on this matter, trying to discourage Iranian officials to sign an agreement with Obama, Florida Senator Marco Rubio suggested that this is just another step in the State Department’s campaign to befriend Iran. Mr. Kerry, who strongly criticized the letter, said “the facts completely contradict that.”
In the request the Obama administration submitted to the Congress a three-year time limit is mentioned. However, as Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter mentioned, “the number three has to do with our political system, not with the defeat of ISIS,” and no one can offer a guarantee the war “will be over in three years.”
The fight against the Islamic State is thought to outlive Barack Obama’s remaining reign as US President, Pentagon specialists say. On this matter, the authorization raises great concerns among the Democrats. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez told the press he fears another “blank check”will be given to the president if the Congress approves his request, and the Democrats are not willing to do so.
The White House proposal was made bearing in mind the fact that Barack Obama will leave his office at the start of 2017. While admitting there is a possibility a war might take longer than three years, “the president’s proposed authorization affords the American people the chance to assess our progress in three years’ time and provides the next president and the next Congress the opportunity to reauthorize it, if they find it necessary,” as Mr. Carter described it.