WASHINGTON — When President Obama’s brief address to the nation on the strategy to defeat ISIS was over, most members of Congress offered cautious praise for his strong tone while Republicans stressed the need for him to follow through.
Both sides of the aisle, though, wanted to hear more about his plans and make sure that he won’t bypass the legislative branch in fomenting and executing the strategy.
“We are uniting the world against a unified threat, and the president’s strategy will succeed because doing it with allies and partners isn’t just smart, it’s strong,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement after Obama concluded his remarks.
“Working to create a common coalition against a common threat, the president sent me to Baghdad on Wednesday to meet with its new inclusive government, which forms the heart and the backbone of our anti-ISIL efforts. I will be traveling over the coming days throughout the Middle East and Europe to continue the diplomatic effort to meet a unifying threat with a unified response,” Kerry continued.
“We do so knowing both that American leadership is indispensable and that we cannot destroy this group on our own. Defeating this common enemy calls for a common cause, and we’re taking it on to succeed together.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who with Kerry is at the helm of the administration’s coalition efforts, said the commander in chief “laid out a strong, comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and the United States military is prepared to carry out its responsibilities in this counter-terrorism campaign.”
“As the president made clear, American military power cannot alone eradicate the threats posed by ISIL to the United States, our allies, and our friends and partners in the region,” Hagel added. “Iraq’s continued political progress toward a more inclusive government will be critical, as will our coalition’s use of all instruments of power — military, law enforcement, economic, diplomatic, intelligence, and humanitarian assistance — in coordination with countries in the region.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who will present his own strategy to defeat ISIS on Thursday morning at AEI, said he supported many of the “elements” advocated by Obama. “However, they are not enough to achieve his own stated goal of defeating ISIL,” the chairman added.
“The president used our strategy in Yemen and Somalia as examples of how the tactics he is recommending can contain violent terrorists. I would remind him that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remains the al-Qaeda affiliate most capable of attacking the American homeland and exporting violent jihad,” McKeon said. “Al Shabaab in Somalia continues to carry out attacks against American and Western interests, while recruiting fighters from the United States. The president’s approach simply will not be adequate to address the threat posed by ISIL either.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) characterized the speech as Obama recanting “his earlier dismissals of ISIL’s capabilities and rightly acknowledged the grave and growing threat posed by the spreading global epidemic of radicalized Islam.”
“A speech is not the same thing as a strategy, however. While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which the president intends to act,” Boehner said. “…It is also a cause for concern that the president appears to view the effort against ISIL as an isolated counterterrorism campaign, rather than as what it must be: an all-out effort to destroy an enemy that has declared a holy war against America and the principles for which we stand.”
The new House majority whip, Steve Scalise (R-La.), simply said he looked “forward to discussing with my colleagues in the House the best plan of action to address this serious terrorist threat.”
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) vowed that “if President Obama is finally ready to drop the wobbly rhetoric and lead a coalition, I am prepared to offer him the support he needs to put down the extremists who threaten us and have committed horrendous crimes against humanity.”
“We need a comprehensive strategy to defeat the terrorist ecosystem that is growing from Africa to the Middle East and into South Asia,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). “The president’s plan announced this evening is an encouraging step in the right direction. Success will depend on the details of its implementation.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) promised that Obama’s speech would be followed by public hearings and classified briefings “to provide additional information about this strategy and ensure that we provide the president with the tools he needs to address the ISIL threat.”
“It is my view that the president possesses existing authorities to strike ISIL in the short term, but that a prolonged military campaign will require a congressionally-approved Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Following the upcoming series of hearings and briefings, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin drafting a tailored AUMF to provide the president with the additional authority required by the War Powers Resolution to continue operations to thwart the ISIL threat,” Menendez said.
“I look forward to learning more about the president’s plan in the upcoming days and weeks.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, said he supports Obama’s goals but feels strongly that “America should not be drawn into a protracted military campaign or act where local forces should be protecting their own country.”
“The United States acts in a stronger way when Congress and the administration work together on foreign policy,” Cardin said. “…Military action alone will not get rid of ISIL. Stable governments that represent all the people in these countries are needed. And we must work to cut off the financial and political support for extremist groups.”
Other Senate Democrats offered their unequivocal support.
“As the president underscored this evening, effectively addressing the threat from ISIS will require a multifaceted strategy,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said. “That strategy includes a military component and the development of a broad international coalition to execute it, much like the measured approach former president George H.W. Bush used to drive Saddam Hussein and his forces out of Kuwait over 20 years ago.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Obama’s speech “was one that Americans needed to hear.”
“The environment in the Middle East today is dangerous and unpredictable, and I respect that the president has resisted previous calls for overreaching,” Coons said. “The president is doing the right thing in methodically trying to build a coalition in the region to equip and train regional militaries, and to be thoughtful and deliberate not just for the first day and the first month of this conflict, but over the long term. What we heard tonight was a strategy, and I support it.”
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D), though, said he opposed Obama’s plan to arm select Syrian rebels.
“We must have greater assurance that we aren’t arming extremists who will eventually use the weapons against us,” Begich said.
Republicans in both chambers offered tepid support, but roundly criticized the president for a too-little, too-late approach or a halfway-sounding strategy.
“You seldom win a war by telling your enemy what you will not do and limiting your options unilaterally. ISIS has repeatedly vowed to bring their terrorism to the United States. We should make the same decision regarding any and all military actions towards them. We should also take all other steps, economically, diplomatically and morally to isolate and cut them off from international support. We should revoke the passports of any American citizen proven to have enlisted in their ranks,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), referencing at the end a legislative effort led by GOPs in both chambers since Congress returned from the summer recess this week.
“The president did not ask for congressional authorization, but I believe the Congress should specifically authorize action against ISIS. It might be appropriate to pass a declaration of war, to unambiguously show the United States is committed to total victory, but at a minimum the Congress should pass an authorization of force resolution,” Barton added.
“The president had an opportunity tonight to unite the country and show ISIS their days are numbered. Instead, he issued a self-limiting series of half measures that may slow and weaken ISIS, but won’t defeat it.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who represents the district of the family of slain journalist Steve Sotloff, said Obama “dithered” in 2011 when it was easy to identify the Free Syrian Army that had formed after President Bashar Assad began brutally cracking down on peaceful Arab Spring protests.
“President Obama can’t be myopic when dealing with Syria. Assad’s forces and other terrorist groups are still wreaking havoc in the country,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We won’t be able to solve the Syria problem with just limited strikes against ISIL. The only way to help Syria become stable is to rid it of the terrorist threat and Assad must step aside, and we must be clear in our own foreign policy to address the totality of the Syrian conflict.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) noted that the Islamic State “is not a ‘manageable problem’ as the president described it last week.”
“But instead, it matches his description today of a group that must be defeated,” Blunt added. “I hope the president’s plan and his resolve can meet the goal of defeating this enemy.”
“I take the president at his word that he now recognizes the threat that ISIS poses,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, “and I hope the president will stay focused on destroying ISIS.”