House Dem doubts Congress will pass ISIS war powers

House Dem doubts Congress will pass ISIS war powers
© Anne Wernikoff

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday cast doubt on whether Congress will pass an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). 

"Unfortunately, I am skeptical that Congress will find the will to overcome our internal divisions, both between parties and internal to them, to authorize this action," said Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOn steel and aluminum trade, Trumpism still rules Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Pentagon vows more airstrike transparency Schumer strikes deal with House, dropping push to link China, defense bills MORE (D-Wash.) at a committee hearing on an AUMF. 


The White House sent over a draft proposal earlier this month, but it has hit resistance from many Republicans who think it's too restrictive and many Democrats who think it's too vague. 

Republicans dislike the authorization's limit of three years, barring an extension, and a ban on the use of U.S. troops in "enduring offensive ground combat operations," since they say it would telegraph a lack of resolve in the fight to allies and enemies and tie military commanders' hands. 

Democrats dislike that the authorization would repeal the 2002 AUMF used for the Iraq War but not the 2001 AUMF that is broader than the one under consideration, and that it would not limit action geographically and would extend to associates of ISIS. 

Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) also said the restriction on "enduring offensive ground combat operations" would require a lawyer to interpret for troops what they could or couldn't do. 

"Going into battle with a lawyer nearby to decide whether a particular action is 'enduring' or 'offensive' or a 'ground combat operation' seems problematic," Thornberry said in prepared remarks. 

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, who served as the Army's vice chief of staff, said there should be no time limit for an AUMF, nor restrictions on the possible uses of U.S. ground troops against ISIS. 

"A president needs maximum flexibility to adapt to the enemy," Keane said. "It makes no sense to me to tell the enemy [of our] unwillingness to extend it beyond three years." 

Keane added that "no one knows" if the Iraqi forces can defeat ISIS, and "it may be necessary for our coalition ground forces — with the United States in the lead to ultimately defeat ISIS." 

Experts who testified at the hearing agreed that the White House's draft AUMF proposal is problematic. 

Robert M. Chesney, University of Texas associate dean and professor, said "enduring" was a "grossly indeterminate phrase on its face and must be dropped." 

"The language will inevitably cast a shadow over commanders' operational decisions," he added. "Commanders should not be left to guess where the boundaries lie." 

Benjamin Wittes, Brookings Institution senior fellow, said the AUMF proposal was "a flawed document" and has no meaningful restrictions. 

"The proposed authorization leaves untouched the 2001 AUMF, which the administration construes quite broadly," Wittes said. 

"The president would have all the authority he has today ... and, in addition to that, he would be granted three years of even broader authority," he said. 

Wittes added that "the elasticity of the word 'enduring' and 'offensive' in the resolution does not define either word," and that there is "a lot of room for elastics there." 

For instance, the administration could define U.S. troops as "not offensive or less than enduring," he said. 

"It's actually written very carefully to create the impression of significant limitations," he said. "[But] the document contains virtually no meaningful restraints at all."