Kerry to Congress: ‘Don’t Hem Us In Against ISIS’
Policy + Politics

Kerry to Congress: ‘Don’t Hem Us In Against ISIS’

Secretary of State John F. Kerry made it clear on Tuesday that the Obama administration is looking for  maximum  flexibility in any  new war powers authority Congress is likely to grant the administration in pursuing the president’s highly ambitious goal of “degrading and destroying” ISIS jihadists in Iraq and Syria.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said Congress should not preclude the possible use of U.S. ground troops – notwithstanding President Obama’s repeated “no boots on the ground” pledge. And he said that any new military combat authority should not prevent the commander-in-chief from broadening air strikes beyond Iraq and Syria if necessary.

Related: ISIS Is Growing Its ‘Terror Army’ of Global Jihadists    

“The president has been crystal clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL,” Kerry said using a different acronym for the murderous terrorist organization. “It doesn’t mean that we should pre-emptively bind the hands of the commander in chief or our commanders in the field in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.”


In case you missed it, the Obama Administration just signaled that President Obama’s “no boots on the ground” pledge should be taken with a large grain of salt. If we deploy troops to Iraq and Syria, and simultaneously maintain forces in Afghanistan—as the president has promised—the U.S. military will once again be risking lives, post-war recovery problems, and a substantial portion of the federal budget.

Though he first said he had adequate military force authorization from two measures adopted after the 9/11 attacks, Obama more recently agreed to work with Congress on a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that it’s critical for the president to seek new congressional military force authorization.

Kerry and others in the administration are at best lukewarm to the idea of re-tooling the AUMF. The Secretary of State more than once has derisively questioned whether a “dysfunctional” Congress could even reach a consensus on new war powers parameters and says the administration will not wait for authorization to protect America’s national security.

Related: The Merger of ISIS and al-Qaeda Could Cripple the Civilized World   

While Obama’s game plan for defeating ISIS largely revolves around stepped up air strikes, almost nobody seriously believes the president when he says he will never deploy U.S. ground troops to take the fight directly to ISIS. Many military experts including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that it will be will be impossible to win without troops beyond the 3,000 or so “military advisers” the president has assigned to Iraq.

With the lame duck Congress rushing to complete work on a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill and adjourn by the end of this week, nothing of significance on new war powers will be resolved until next year, when Republicans are in control of both the Senate and House for the first time in a decade.  

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is line to be the next chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, contends that the military authorizations provided to former Republican President George W. Bush shortly after the 9-11 attacks to go after al Qaeda in Afghanistan and topple the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq do not cover expanded air strikes and other military action against ISIS. “Taking us into another country with a different enemy is exercising the worst judgment possible,” Corker angrily said shortly before the November election.

Related: McCain: Give Obama More War Powers Against ISIS

Corker has been joined by other prominent GOP critics of Obama’s handling of the war – including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who will become the new chair of the Armed Services Committee next month, and two potential presidential candidates in 2016, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

McCain, a decorated Vietnam War-era pilot and prisoner of war, believes Obama’s strategy is badly flawed and that he eventually will have to send in ground troops to Syria and Iraq if he is serious about toppling ISIS forces. Yet he has argued for providing the president with maximum flexibility in waging war.

Paul, long considered an isolationist, more recently has urged the president to seek a declaration of war from Congress to meet what he insists is a constitutional requirement. Had the president done that, Paul said, “he would have been showing true leadership, there would have been true bipartisan support, and then really there would be less carping on both sides.”

Related: Can the U.S. Defeat ISIS Without a War Powers Deal?   

Yet Paul has introduced a proposal that would limit the new authorization of force against ISIS to one year before the president would have to return to Congress for additional authority. And it would rule out the use of troops except under specific circumstances such as the capture of a high value.

For his part, Rubio has been preaching the need for a more robust U.S. military presence abroad, but that it would be a mistake for lawmakers to try to micromanage military tactics, The New York Times said.

During his testimony yesterday, Kerry warned lawmakers against trying bind the hands of the Commander in Chief by limiting the fight to Iraq and Syria, given the highly volatile and fluid situation in the Middle East. “We didn’t limit al-Qaeda geographically” in the wake of 9-11, he noted. “It would be terrible to send a message to these guys, ‘You’ve got a safe haven over here.’”

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