Obama’s new war power request tests hawks' resolve

'People bang the table for the use of military force all the time. But it is easy for them to do so if there’s nothing to vote on.'

'People bang the table for the use of military force all the time. But it is easy for them to do so if there’s nothing to vote on.'

WASHINGTON - A request from U.S. President Barack Obama for Congress to provide authorization for a military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is a pointed test of hawkish lawmakers’ desire for war.

"The fact that the president of the United States is appealing to the Congress for the use of military force, and looking for their blessing, I think sets a standard in the age of permanent war that Obama wants to set," said Mark Perry, an independent military and foreign affairs analyst.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the U.S. has deployed forces to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and waged a drone strike campaign that reaches from South Asia to North Africa.

The U.S. has carried out the military campaigns using authorizations passed in 2001 and 2002. Obama’s proposal would replace the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, but would leave the 2002 authorization intact that removed geographical boundaries in prosecuting the war on terror.

If passed, the draft proposal would provide the legal framework for the deployment of U.S. forces to combat ISIL in limited defensive operations.

It does not authorize the use of U.S. forces "in enduring offensive ground combat operations," but leaves the door open for limited military engagements, such as rescue operations and special operations missions targeting ISIL’s leadership.

"Under the language the White House is suggesting, it seems clear that they would be allowed to engage not only in defensive operations but also some offensive ground operations as long as they are not enduring --- whatever that means," said Chris Edelson, an assistant professor at American University in Washington.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that the draft’s language was left "intentionally" vague to provide the American president flexibility to address the complex fight against ISIL.

"The underlying point here that the administration is making is that we’re not going to commit to a large-scale invasion," said Ken Gude, a senior fellow with the national security team at the Center for American Progress, a think tank.

There are already at least 2,600 U.S. forces in the region, largely to train, advise and assist local forces.

Perry said Obama's proposal seeks to test the resolve of hawkish lawmakers who have long-complained that the Obama administration has failed to adequately prosecute the war on terror.

"People bang the table for the use of military force all the time. But it is easy for them to do so if there’s nothing to vote on," he said. "Now they have to stand up and defend their opinion, and Congress is going to have to go back to their constituents and make their argument for the use of military force here."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, a vocal proponent of increased military action abroad, particularly in Syria where ISIL has captured roughly a third of the country, voiced doubts about Obama’s proposal, calling it a "recipe for failure."

"I have deep concerns about aspects of this proposed authorization, including limitations placed on the constitutional authority of the commander-in-chief, the failure to articulate an objective for the use of military force, and a narrow definition of strategy that seeks to separate the fight against ISIL from the underlying conflict in Syria," the senior senator said in a statement.

House Speaker John Boehner said the request does not sufficiently "give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people."

As written by Obama, the authorities granted by the new AUMF would expire three years after it is enacted unless Congress moves to renew them.

Gude said while the administration does not need new authorization from Congress, it is necessary "that the conversation begins, and the debate around the authorization is a time to do it, and then moving forward, we can assess where we are around the goals that have been laid out for the operation."

As lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Congress wrangle over their version of the authorization bill, they must be mindful that not only does any legislation ultimately require the American president’s consent, but it will also have to win out in the court of public opinion.

Just 41 percent of Americans would support sending ground troops to combat ISIL if airstrikes alone could not stop its militants, according to a Brookings Institution poll conducted last November. Among Republicans, 53 percent supported sending ground forces, while only 36 percent of Democrats favored the idea.

"It will be interesting to see what the debate in the Congress is because we’re going to find out for the first time in a long time how sensitive members of Congress are to public opinion," Perry said.

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