Obama's request to Congress will face hurdles

Obama's request to Congress will face hurdles
U.S. President Barack Obama.

AFTER more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, United States President Barack Obama's new request to Congress to back the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will face challenges from not only Republicans who doubt his administration's strategy, but also his own Democrats, who want stricter limitations on where the war will be waged and how long it will last.

The Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) will last for three years and not place any geographical limitations on where military forces could be used against ISIS, according to reports.

The US launched air strikes on ISIS positions last August and is leading an international coalition against the militant group, which has killed thousands of people, including foreign hostages, while seizing territory in Iraq and Syria.

Without geographical limitations, this new plan would allow the US to strike ISIS targets in other parts of the Middle East such as Lebanon and Jordan, which ISIS has attacked in the past.

The new AUMF will also prohibit "enduring offensive ground operations", but some Democrats worry that this language to restrict ground troops might be too vague and open-ended.

Mr Robert Menendez, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The New York Times: "Unless that is further defined, that might be seen as too big a statement to ultimately embrace."

On the other side of the aisle, Republican Senator Mark Kirk said he did not have any reservations about approving Mr Obama's request, saying "it's the right thing to do to take out these guys".

Top White House officials briefed Senate Democrats on Tuesday, following the announcement that US aid worker Kayla Mueller had died while in ISIS captivity, a fresh reminder of the threat posed by the group.

The new AUMF will kick-start what is expected to be a robust and extended congressional debate on the wisdom of committing to another war in the Middle East.

Until now, the administration has insisted it has the authority to wage a war on ISIS based on the broad 2001 AUMF, which was granted after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks.

The 2001 legislation was especially broad, placing no geographical or time limitations and allowing the use of force against any entity that the President determined had "planned, authorised, committed or aided" the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.

The last time Congress gave similar authority was in 2002, when former president George W. Bush was given a similarly broad- based go-ahead to strike "against the continuing threat posed by Iraq".

Under the new proposal, the 2002 AUMF would be repealed, but the 2001 AUMF would remain in place, leaving the door open for future presidents to act against terrorism, an unsettling thought for Democrats, who are likely to be the ones most opposed to the new authorisation.

Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University Andrew Bacevich believes the AUMF will pass because "there is consensus within Congress in favour of continuing the campaign against ISIS".

Public sentiment also indicates support for the air strikes that have been under way for months, though there is less support in the polls for deployment of US troops on the ground after more than 7,000 US military lives were lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Prof Bacevich added that the complication of the issue comes from the "actual scope of the AUMF language".

He told The Straits Times: "The White House will want language that gives the President wide latitude.

Some in Congress will push back, concerned that the AUMF could be used by this President or the next one to undertake a wider war against groups other than ISIS."

simlinoi@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 12, 2015.
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