Fight versus ISIS roils 2016 field

President Obama’s request to use military force in the Middle East could be a landmine issue for both Republicans and Democrats weighing White House bids. 

GOP senators eyeing the presidency have diverged on how best to respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

{mosads}It’s also a difficult move for Democrats. Hillary Clinton was dogged during the 2008 race for the presidency over her vote to authorize the Iraq War.  She could face a difficult question over how much support to throw behind Obama.

“All of these people are facing some political pitfalls because they can’t see into the future. People who voted for the Iraq War in 2002 based on information given to them by the Bush administration might have said and done different things with the benefit of hindsight,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign. 

A spokeswoman for Clinton declined to comment on Obama’s request, which was unveiled Wednesday. 

But Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who could challenge Clinton from the left, quickly announced his opposition to Obama’s plan — a move that could help him gain traction with the party’s progressive wing. 

“I oppose sending U.S. ground troops into combat in another bloody war in the Middle East. I therefore cannot support the resolution in its current form without clearer limitations on the role of U.S. combat troops,” he said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the liberal hero many activists want to challenge Clinton, said Wednesday she’s still undecided on the issue. But if she comes out against the proposal, she could force Clinton’s hand. 

“I am deeply concerned by the rise of ISIS, and I support a strong, coordinated response — but I also believe it is critical for those nations in the region that are most immediately affected by the rise of ISIS to play a leading role in this fight, and I do not want America to be dragged into another ground war in the Middle East,” Warren said in a statement to The Hill.  

“A vote to authorize military force is one of the most important and consequential actions that a Senator can take — and I intend to review this proposal carefully and deliberately before coming to a decision.”

On the Republican side, the split among possible contenders for the White House mirrors a critical debate within the party on the appropriate approach to foreign policy. 

“At the end of the day, policy is politics, and we have a growing debate within our party about the use of force, about the wisdom of the use of American power,” said Weaver. “We have a growing isolationist wing within our party.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has drawn ire from hawks for his skepticism about foreign military interventions. On Wednesday, he instead focused on attacking Clinton for letting Libya spiral out of control during her stint as secretary of State.

“One of the people I blame for a lot of this, frankly, is Hillary Clinton,” he said on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom.”

“The disaster that is Libya is now a breeding ground for terrorists and also a breeding ground for armament. I really do blame Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya for creating a lot of the chaos that is now spreading throughout the Middle East.”

In September, Paul said Obama would disrespect Congress by not seeking legislative authority to strike ISIS.

At the time, he said he would support an authorization for use of military force if he agreed with its wording, and emphasized that he would support airstrikes.

Paul declined to answer reporters’ questions in the Capitol Wednesday.

“It’s a very interesting political problem for the Republicans. I don’t think war weariness is limited to Democrats,” said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who worked on then-Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign, where the Democrat struggled to explain why he voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq but later opposed a bill funding the troops.

“There’s a lot of fatigue in the electorate about the deployment of United States forces far away,” said Devine. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)on Wednesday slammed Obama’s proposed resolution as “fatally flawed.”

He argued the president’s language would give a “free pass” to Syrian President Bashar Assad by not allowing U.S. military strikes against his regime if it attempts to crack down on Syrian rebels fighting ISIS.

Graham said White House counsel Neil Eggleston told him in a meeting Tuesday “it does not authorize the use of military force against Assad who will surely attack the people we train.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is vying with Graham for Republican voters who support a more assertive foreign policy, took a skeptical tone after attending a briefing on the resolution with GOP colleagues. He cited a three-year limit on operations.

“Ultimately I think we ought to authorize the president to destroy ISIL, period,” he said using an alternative acronym for ISIS. “I don’t know why you would limit it to three years.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday called on the administration to arm elite Kurdish troops to fight ISIS, but did not say whether he would support Obama’s request as drafted.

The presumed 2016 contender welcomed a congressional debate on military force as something that would force the president to lay out a detailed strategy for fighting Islamic militants.

“One of the great benefits of it is that I hope it will force this administration to clearly articulate their objective and their specific plan to accomplish that objective,” Cruz said in remarks delivered Wednesday morning to the Center for Security Studies.

“What do you intend to do and how do you intend to do it? With regard to ISIS we have not seen a seriousness of purpose. We have seen instead photo op foreign policy. A bomb here, a missile there,” he said.

Unlike Rubio, Cruz, Graham and Paul, White House hopefuls outside the Senate have the luxury of waiting to comment on Obama’s strategy for fighting ISIS; a spokeswoman for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton ISIS John Kerry John McCain Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio Rand Paul Ted Cruz

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