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House Armed Services Chair: AUMF Limiting U.S. Ground Role is 'DOA' -- CQ Roll Call

November 13, 2014
In The News
If the Obama administration proposes an authorization to use military force against the Islamic State that limits the use of American ground troops, it would be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, t he House Armed Services chairman predicted at a hearing Thursday.
“Should the AUMF proposed by the president contain such limitations, it will be DOA in Congress,” said California Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon . “I will not support sending our military into harm’s way with their arms tied behind their backs.”
Even though McKeon is retiring after this session of Congress, his comment reflects a view prevalent in the GOP that ruling out the use of American ground troops in a combat role against the Islamic State is a strategic mistake. McKeon called the president’s strategy “minimalist.” He and many other Republicans want at least to keep the U.S. ground option open, if not to exercise it.
On the other hand, the Republican party includes a libertarian wing wary of foreign military obligations that could join with liberals in desiring exactly the kind of limitation on ground troops that McKeon and his allies despise. The conflict over just this issue shows how tough it will be to write a war authorization that will garner enough votes to pass in either the House or the Senate.
Thursday’s hearing also displayed Democratic misgivings on expanding the war.
Rep. Joe Courtney , D-Conn., quoted former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s comment that any president that wants to deploy a large number of U.S. ground forces to the Middle East or elsewhere ought to “have his head examined.” Added Courtney, “We’re not going down that path again.”
Rep. Niki Tsongas , D-Mass., said she was concerned when she heard President Barack Obama recently announce a doubling of U.S. forces in Iraq to some 3,000 troops and when he said he wouldn’t rule out further increases. She said questions about objectives and costs in the conflict still need to be answered, but “it seems to me the horse is ever more out of the barn.”
Obama said last week he would like lawmakers to send him a war authorization, though he indicated it would probably not happen until the next Congress. House Speaker John A. Boehner , R-Ohio, among others, would prefer to wait until the new Congress for an authorization.
Yet members are impatient to get started on writing the legislation. Texas Republican Mac Thornberry , the likely next chairman of House Armed Services, complained to the Pentagon’s leaders at Thursday’s hearing that the administration’s proposal for an authorization has yet to arrive in Congress. “Until you get words on paper, it’s hard to make progress,” Thornberry said.
McKeon’s remarks show it may prove hard to make progress even when the words are on paper (and sometimes especially then).
War Questions
The hearing was an opportunity for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey to defend the strategy for combating the Islamic State.
Dempsey said he does not foresee U.S. ground troops being directly involved in fighting, though that could change if certain assumptions do not come to pass. He said if operations become more “complex” in places such as Mosul, he might reconsider his position — “and we are certainly considering it.” He also said an Iraqi failure to form an inclusive government that respects all sects could force a reassessment of the U.S. prohibition on deploying its ground troops (and he added that U.S. officials “don’t yet know” if the Iraqi government will become inclusive). Lastly, he said, if Iraqi security forces prove unwilling to take back al Anbar and Nineveh provinces then that, too, could force a reconsideration.
Amid reports that the Obama administration is reviewing its Syria strategy, including possibly making toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a goal of the military campaign, Hagel told lawmakers the immediate goal is just to hit Islamic State facilities and personnel in Syria.
He said the U.S. policy that Assad has lost his legitimacy hasn’t changed. Yet the more moderate rebels in that country are reportedly not happy that the U.S. military is not joining them in their fight against Assad, and they don’t want to fight the Islamic State without also fighting Assad.
“No, there is no change in the strategy,” Hagel said.
Amid all the concerns, the Pentagon leaders said progress is being made against the Islamic State, which is also known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS.
“ISIL has to continue to advance to succeed, and we’ve begun to break that momentum,” Dempsey said.
The group’s advance “has stalled and in some cases has been reversed” and its recruitment efforts have been hurt, Hagel said, though he added that it remains a “serious threat.”
The transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to other countries and reports that some have returned to militant groups was a topic of persistent GOP questioning. Hagel and Dempsey downplayed the risks and said 90 percent of those released have not returned to the fight, at last count.