Armed Services chairman: GOP skeptical of Obama's AUMF

Armed Services chairman: GOP skeptical of Obama's AUMF
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Some Republicans believe President Obama's request to use force against Islamic militants is an attempt to share the blame if things go wrong, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday.  

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said those GOP lawmakers believe Obama wants to ensure that "he and his party are not forced to bear the full weight of the strategic blunder that has come in part from his premature withdrawal from Iraq and the lack of an effective strategy to counter ISIS." 

Thornberry said at the Council on Foreign Relations that he personally supported passing an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but he had "qualms" about the president's proposal. "I worry that we are asking our pilots or our people on the ground to have a lawyer by your side to figure out whether that's enduring or not, or it's offensive or not, or whether it's ground combat or not," he said.  

"We are in this kind of ironic situation where many Republicans want to give the president broader authority, many Democrats want to ... constrain him further, and so how is this going to come out? I don't know," Thornberry added. 

The Texas Republican's comments highlight the difficulty the White House and Democrats will have in trying to get a formal AUMF from Congress against ISIS. 

The White House sent over a request for an AUMF earlier this month, but neither Republicans or Democrats are happy with it. In general, Republicans believe it places too many restrictions and ties military commanders' hands, and Democrats believe it does not place enough restrictions and could lead to another ground war in the Middle East or elsewhere. 

The proposal would expire in three years and ban "enduring offensive ground combat operations," but would extend authorization of the use of military force to those associated with ISIS and potentially outside of Iraq and Syria, and would not repeal the broad 2001 AUMF the administration is using to justify its current efforts against al Qaeda and ISIS. 

With the deep divide between Republicans and Democrats, it's unclear whether an AUMF could be passed before a major offensive against ISIS in Mosul — which could see a limited number of U.S. troops accompanying Iraqis into battle — begins in April or May. 

Thornberry said Congress would have to hear the president's strategy against ISIS before granting authorization. 

"Is there a strategy to really push back on these folks, or is this ... more of a contain-as-best-we-can for awhile and hope they collapse on themselves?" he asked.

Thornberry called ISIS the "most sophisticated, best-equipped, best-trained terrorist organization" the U.S. has ever faced. "In my opinion they still have momentum, it's still growing. So it must be confronted."

Thornberry said the U.S. should not confront the terror group alone, but that other nations in the region would not "step up to the plate" if they had doubts the U.S. was right behind them.

Thornberry has scheduled a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on the AUMF, with former Army vice chief of staff, retired Gen. Jack Keane and experts Robert Chesney, University of Texas professor and associate dean for academic affairs, and Benjamin Wittes, Brookings Institution senior fellow.