Republicans divided over Syria airstrikes

The U.S. early Tuesday reportedly began surveillance flights over Syria that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets as lawmakers debate whether to support expanded military action there.

ADVERTISEMENT
The surveillance flights, conducted by manned and unmanned aircraft, according to The Associated Press, allow the U.S. to gather reliable intelligence on ISIS targets, which the U.S. currently lacks.

U.S. military action in Syria would be a dramatic expansion of the current military mission against ISIS, which now consists of targeted airstrikes in Iraq.

Although Republican critics have criticized the administration for doing too little against ISIS in Syria, only a few have endorsed airstrikes in Syria so far.

"I do think this is an important step for us. And I think the American people have seen how dastardly, how demonic almost these people are, chopping off a Western journalist's head," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday on MSNBC on increased military action in Syria, including airstrikes.

"We must expand our bombing campaign to include ISIS bases in Syria," Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said in an op-ed Monday.

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on CNN, “There’s no way you can solve the problem in Iraq without hitting them in Syria. ... The goal is to hit [ISIS] in Syria to deal with their command and control."

Other Republicans, however, have been reluctant to support expanding the military campaign into Syria, instead calling for the president to outline his strategy against ISIS.

"At this point, I think no one should say that we're going to go invade Iraq, invade Syria, or put troops on the ground. What we do need, though, is a coordinated plan," said Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) on CNN on Tuesday.

Republicans also disagree over whether the White House needs to seek congressional approval for the airstrikes. The White House indicated Monday that it did not need authorization.

"We should certainly authorize this," Corker said. "I hope what they will instead do is come to Congress and ask for a new authorization for a new threat that has evolved over time."

Turner disagreed.

"I think the president certainly has enough authority currently militarily to take action," he said. "What he doesn't have is the moral resolve or the plan that he needs in order to be able to execute that."

Congress returns from recess on Sept. 8, and it is not clear whether the White House plans any military action in Syria before then.

Enormous pressure for the U.S. to act against ISIS in Syria has built since the Sunni extremist group last Tuesday released a video showing the beheading of James Foley. The American journalist was kidnapped while covering the Syrian civil war in 2012.

That pressure could build even further if another American journalist held by ISIS, Steve Sotloff, is killed. ISIS threatened to kill Sotloff next if the U.S. did not halt its airstrikes in Iraq.

And pressure may build on lawmakers to weigh in as the 90-day clock for the president to seek Congress's approval for committing U.S. troops into hostilities winds down under the War Powers Act, or if the White House seeks approval for a new authorization of military force in Iraq.

Corker acknowledged that such a vote to authorize military action in Iraq or Syria is a tricky one just 70 days from midterm elections, given the unpopularity among the U.S. public for a prolonged military campaign.

But he said Congress needs to weigh in.

"For the American people's sake, Congress should weigh in. Congress should be a part of this," he said.

"I would hope the American people would demand that the people they're voting for state their position on an issue that's such a threat to us both now and over the longer term," he added.