Offensive in Iraq complicates Obama battle with Congress

Offensive in Iraq complicates Obama battle with Congress

The administration’s plan for a spring offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is quickly complicating the White House’s effort to win congressional approval of a new measure authorizing military action against the terrorist group.

Plans for Iraqi forces backed by the United States to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, are increasing the urgency felt by Democrats to rule out the use of U.S. ground troops.

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“It is imperative that Congress and the American people understand what role U.S. troops will play,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who wants language ruling out the use of ground troops in any military force authorization. 

Republicans, for their part, want to make sure the U.S. military isn’t handcuffed by language that would prohibit the use of ground troops who might assist Iraqi troops — who retreated from Mosul last year as ISIS captured the city.

GOP aides suggested Monday that Congress is likely to take its time considering Obama’s request for the authorization of military action, and outside experts expressed doubt that any authorization would be approved by the time the effort to retake Mosul begins.

“I think you need to let this first wave of hearings cycle through before you really know where things stand,” a GOP House aide said Monday of the authorization.

The aide noted that members received the president’s draft just days before they headed home for a holiday break and that they have had little time to talk to constituents or ask questions about the resolution.

There is “a lot of unprecedented language in this proposal, and they want to know what the real-world implications are,” the aide told The Hill.

Jerry Hendrix, director of the defense strategies and assessments program at the Center for a New American Security, said the spring offensive “should be the deadline” for Congress to approve a new war authorization. But he doubts it will be done by then, given the differences among lawmakers over what Congress should authorize.

Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardIt's as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic Biden wins all-mail Kansas primary MORE (D-Hawaii), a veteran who has repeatedly criticized the White House’s approach to ISIS, said not even the administration expects that an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) will pass by the time the Mosul offensive occurs, which is expected in April or May.

She also said the lack of congressional action won’t prevent the administration from doing what it wants with regard to Mosul.

“If the administration believes the AUMF is essential to any action in Mosul, then they would not have been preparing for the action or announcing it prior to receiving congressional authorization,” Gabbard said in a statement to The Hill. 

“For all practical purposes, the administration will go ahead with whatever they decide to do,” she said. 

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden's New Deal Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil MORE is set to make the administration’s case for the AUMF as he testifies this week in front of four congressional panels.

Kerry is supposed to be on Capitol Hill to discuss his agency’s budget request, but the force authorization is expected to be the primary topic.

Hendrix said Kerry is likely to be on defense against members of both parties, setting up a challenge for the former Democratic presidential candidate who was once mocked for a statement about voting for $87 billion in Iraq War funding before voting against it.

The Pentagon’s surprise decision to reveal plans about the spring offensive for Mosul has also led to criticism. Gabbard on Monday said the strategy had her “mind-boggled.”

Hendrix predicted it would increase pressure on Kerry because of accusations that the decision “compromised the element of surprise.”

Kerry “definitely has his work cut out for him,” Hendrix said.

The U.S. has 2,655 military advisers in Iraq. While Obama has insisted they will not take part in combat operations, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told lawmakers last September that he could recommend having U.S. forces accompany Iraqi troops into battle on complex operations, such as an effort to retake Mosul. 

He added that Obama said he is prepared to consider the use of ground forces on a “case-by-case basis.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter visited Kuwait over the weekend in order to assess U.S. and coalition efforts against ISIS, including under what conditions U.S. forces could be necessary in direct combat.

“I think we need to be convinced that any use of our forces is necessary, is going to be sufficient, that we’ve thought through not just the first step, but the second step, and the third step,” Carter told troops stationed in Iraq. 

“I want to make sure we’ve thought everything through and that we have a plan that leads to success,” he said.