Kerry Tells Skeptical Senators They'll Hear ISIS Plan Details 'at Appropriate Time'

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry tried to persuade a skeptical Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration's strategy is on top of the ISIS crisis today as one prominent senator accused him of playing a "political game" with Congress.

The exchanges were almost as testy between Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Kerry as they were with Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and the secretary of State, leading Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to blast her colleagues for being too tough on the cabinet member.

"I think it is shocking and a sad state of affairs that we heard just now such angry comments aimed at you, Mr. Secretary, and through you, at our president, instead of at ISIS," Boxer said. "I think it's shocking. I'm actually shaking and trembling."

Kerry promised senators that the Obama administration has "been focused on ISIL since its inception as the successor to al-Qaeda of Iraq in 2013."

"Early this summer, the ISIL threat accelerated when it effectively erased the Iraq-Syria border and the Mosul damn fell. The president acted immediately. Deliberately and decisively, we further surged the ISR missions immediately. We set up joint operation centers in Baghdad in Erbil immediately, and our special forces conducted a very detailed, in-depth assessment of Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces," Kerry said.

"We did that purposefully without jumping, as some people wanted us to, because we wanted to understand what is the Iraqi capacity of the Iraqi army to fight? How many brigades having seen what happened in Mosul are still prepared to engage? Are we getting into something that, in fact, we don't have the answers to with respect to who can do what?"

He spoke of the need to "repudiate the gross distortion of Islam that ISIL is spreading," and said on a recent trip he was "very encouraged to hear that Saudi Arabia's top clerics came out and declared terrorism a heinous crime under Sharia law and that the perpetrators should be made an example of."

While touting a growing coalition of nations offering "strong support" to defeat ISIS, he indicated that the "willingness to help in some way" of "more than 30 countries and entities" he met with in Wales, Paris and Jeddah wouldn't necessarily be through military assistance.

"So we have a plan. We know the players. Our focus now is in determining what each country's role will be and how to coordinate those activities for success," Kerry said.

"…This mission isn't just about taking out an enemy on the battlefield; it's about taking out a network, decimating and discrediting a militant cult masquerading as a religious movement. It's similar to what we've been doing to al-Qaeda these last years."

But Menendez wanted a clearer picture of how the administration saw the endgame. "In Iraq, we want a sovereign Iraq whose territorial integrity has been restored without the presence of ISIL," the chairman said. "And in Syria?"

Kerry admitted their Syria plans over the past year "regrettably got sidetracked by a number of things."

"No one reasonably can come from the administration and suggest that the ultimate goal, which is taking out this network, is not going to be a multi-year effort," Menendez said, asking why the White House intended to rely upon the 9/11 or Iraq authorizations for military force to take action without Congress now.

Kerry said they determined they have authority because "good lawyers within the White House, within the State Department, who have examined this extremely closely, have come to the conclusion across the board that the 2001 AUMF, which says all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons responsible for 9/11, those who harbored such organizations or persons, to prevent future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such persons or organizations. It includes al-Qaeda… ISIL began as al-Qaeda."

"I appreciate your ability as a former prosecutor and a gifted attorney to try to make the case," Menendez said. "I will tell you that, at least from the chair's perspective, you're going to need a new AUMF."