Congress’s Conundrum: Obama’s ISIL War Authorization Request
By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
After a 10-day break, Congress returns this week with the daunting task of articulating how the United States should proceed with the president’s Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
On Feb. 11, President Obama spoke to the nation and presented to Congress, seeking their approval for his authorization to use force against ISIS. The president laid core principles which he believed would lead to the destruction of ISIL.
“It supports the comprehensive strategy that we have been pursuing with our allies and 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,” stated President Obama. “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.”
The president emphatically stated that “this Resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria.”
Both Republicans and Democrats have strong reservations regarding the president’s war authorization, with Liberal members of the Congress concerned over the phrase “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” They feel this could lead to the expansion of military operations throughout the Middle East, and drag the nation into an open-ended military conflict in the region.
Republicans have a grave concern that limits and handcuffs the military in its ability to eventually defeat ISIL.
With Congress now back in session, the debate has centered on the best way to defeat ISIL, but the focus has been on the tactical and operational strategy, and is devoid of any political strategy on what the United States is trying to pursue for the region.
Even the core principles laid out by the president are vague and not fully developed, with the reality on the ground in the region. The U.S. has been supporting local ground forces, but all sides have openly complained that they lack the necessary military resources to take the fight to ISIL.
ISIL has been battling Iraqi forces in the Anbar Province of Western Iraq, but they lack the equipment, command and control apparatus to take the fight to ISIL. There will be successes on the ground, but how and who will take the fight to ISIL in their sanctuary in Syria? At this point neither Kurdish forces nor Iraqi forces are capable of doing this – or willing to do so.
As the president mentioned in his address to the nation, debate has centered on Arab nations as a ground force to go after ISIL in Syria. “As I’ve said before, I’m 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 countries best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL — and that’s what they’re doing.”
Arab armies have a sizable and capable military, but they aren’t trained for the type of offensive military operations needed without strong advisory support from the United States.
The training of the Syrian opposition has been ongoing, but it has been slow and chaotic, and this opposition force has been plummeted by Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, who has been left unchecked by U.S. coalition airstrikes. In the president’s war authorization, nothing was mentioned of how Obama plans on dealing with Syria.
The other aspect the president stated in his remarks is to have “Regional and international support for an inclusive Iraqi government that unites the Iraqi people and strengthens Iraqi forces against ISIL.”
This has been the problem from the beginning, and with the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Jawad Kadhim Al-Abadi, the situation is still a long way off. Currently Iran has strong influence over the Iraqi government, and it was the Iran who was the principle party which forced former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Maliki from power.
Sunni tribes will only get involved when it serves their interests, and have no reason to align themselves with the Shiite dominated government in Baghdad. Administration officials need to understand the Sunni tribes were the key component during the Iraq surge of 2007-08. That was also based on the fact that they had American forces as a counter weight to Baghdad. This leverage ended with a precipitous U.S. withdrawal in 2011.
As the debate begins on how the U.S. should defeat and destroy ISIL, the focus has been on the military strategy, without any thought to the political strategy the U.S. wants the military to achieve.
The president needs to make the case on what his political strategy is, but so far little has come out of the White house beyond what he will not do. If the case is made for going to war against ISIL, the U.S. needs a political strategy, otherwise we will again repeat the mistakes of past conflicts.
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