With Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at his side, President Obama this afternoon vowed to go after ISIS with the military might of the U.S.
Well, to a point.
Obama was trying to gin up support for an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) proposal that he submitted to Congress this morning.
“This resolution reflects our core objective to destroy ISIL. It supports the comprehensive strategy that we’ve been pursuing with our allies and our partners. A systemic and sustained campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, support and training for local forces on the ground, including the moderate Syrian opposition, preventing ISIL attacks in the region and beyond, including by foreign terrorist fighters who try to threaten our countries; regional and international support for an inclusive Iraqi government that unites the Iraqi people and strengthens Iraqi forces against ISIL; humanitarian assistance for the innocent civilians of Iraq and Syria who are suffering so terribly under ISIL’s reign of horror,” Obama said.
“…The resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria. It is not the authorization of another ground war like Afghanistan or Iraq. The 2,600 American troops in Iraq today largely serve on bases. And yes, they face the risks that come with service in any dangerous environment, but they do not have a combat mission.”
The text states it “does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.”
The president, who often notes he pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq, stressed he’s “convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East.”
“That’s not in our national security interest and it’s not necessary for us to defeat ISIL. Local forces on the ground who know their country’s best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL and that’s what they’re doing,” Obama said.
“At the same time, this resolution strikes the necessary balance by giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances. For example, if we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our special forces to take action because I will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.”
His proposal repeals the 2002 Iraq AUMF and limits the new one to three years. “I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war or by remaining on a perpetual war footing,” Obama said, adding that it’s “not a timetable” but “it’s conceivable that the mission is completed earlier.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called Obama’s three-year AUMF limit “aspirational,” but noted that the limit gives the next president time to review Obama’s strategy and decide if a change in course is needed.
Obama insisted that progress is being made against ISIS: “We’re taking out their commanders, their fighters and their leaders… and we’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.”
“Its barbaric murders of so many people, including American hostages, are a desperate and revolting attempt to strike fear in the hearts of people it can never possibly win over by its ideas or its ideology, because it offers nothing but misery and death and destruction.”
Lawmakers from both parties generally agreed that the AUMF will go through lots of debate and negotiations in Congress.
“I’m concerned that the president is more focused on threading a political needle here rather than how to be successful in beating ISIS,” House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told CNN.
Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said he was concerned about the AUMF definition of “associated persons or forces” and safeguarding against “mission creep.”
“We must strike a balance between providing the current administration with the authorities it needs to ensure national security, while safeguarding against future Executive Branch overreach,” Smith said.
“If you put a geographic limit on the authorization of the use of force, you’ve basically told ISIL where they can go to hide,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Fox. “If you say, for example, you can only hit them in Iraq and Syria, they have every incentive now to move their operations and their training facilities to some other place that’s not included within it.”