Congress Scrutinizes Obama Strategy 09/16 06:09
President Barack Obama's strategy to combat Islamic State extremists in Iraq
and Syria is being scrutinized in Congress, where the expanded military
campaign has broad support but faces skepticism rooted in more than a decade of
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's strategy to combat Islamic State
extremists in Iraq and Syria is being scrutinized in Congress, where the
expanded military campaign has broad support but faces skepticism rooted in
more than a decade of war.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, were scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate
Armed Services Committee, the first in a series of high-profile Capitol Hill
hearings that will measure the president's ability to rally congressional
Obama last week outlined his military plan to destroy the extremists,
authorizing U.S. airstrikes inside Syria, stepping up attacks in Iraq and
deploying additional American troops, with more than 1,000 now advising and
assisting Iraqi security forces to counter the terrorism threat. The U.S.
conducted the first of the airstrikes Monday, going to the aid of Iraqi
security forces who were being attacked by enemy fighters.
The president said he had the authority to order the airstrikes without new
congressional approval. Obama did ask Congress to authorize a program to train
and arm vetted Syrian rebels battling the Islamic State group and forces loyal
to Syrian President Bashar Assad, a program that got a boost Monday as House
Republicans pushed to authorize the mission.
Still, there were doubters.
"I support the president 1,000 percent on air support. I do not support the
training of Syrian rebels," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a member of the Armed
Services Committee, said Monday. His reservations stemmed from the "eight
years, $20 billion to train" the Iraqi forces after the U.S. invasion in March
2003. "See what the outcome was there," he said.
Another member of the committee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., questioned the
"How serious are we? We could have bombed Syria yesterday. We could have
taken out ISIS. I can point out to them targets on a map," McCain said Monday.
The Islamic State group is sometimes called ISIS or ISIL.
Racing to finish its work and leave Washington for midterm campaigning,
House Republicans finalized legislation to authorize the mission to arm and
train moderate Syrian rebels.
The authorization under consideration likely will be included as an
amendment to a spending bill Congress must pass to keep the government open
until mid-December. That would give lawmakers the opportunity to hold a
separate debate and vote on the matter --- something members of both parties
The House Rules Committee voted late Monday to have six hours of debate on
the amendment, once it is taken up, with a vote possible as early as Wednesday.
House Republicans planned to meet Tuesday to discuss the legislation.
Bowing to congressional fears that any vote is tantamount to a war vote, the
legislation includes a provision stating that "nothing in this section shall be
construed to constitute a specific statutory authorization for the introduction
of U.S. armed forces into hostilities or into situations wherein hostilities
are clearly indicated by the circumstances."
The provision reflects a congressional divide between hawks seeking tougher
action than that proposed by Obama and lawmakers weary from more than a decade
of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The measure compels the Pentagon to present Congress with a plan 15 days
before any training begins and requires ongoing updates every 90 days. The
administration isn't likely to protest the conditions.
The U.S. plan is to develop moderate Syrian forces at Saudi Arabian training
sites before helping them return to the battlefield. It's unclear how long they
would need to be trained to be battle-ready or how the U.S. could ensure their
attention remained on fighting extremists and not just the Syrian government.
Many Republicans and Democrats have expressed reservations about the ability
to identify moderates in a country awash with rebel formations and shifting
alliances. The Islamic State grew out of the al-Qaida movement, but the two are
now fighting. In some instances, the moderate Free Syrian Army has teamed with
al-Qaida's local franchise, the Nusra Front.
The House's effort would provide lawmakers with information on the vetting
process and which groups were being recruited. The administration didn't ask
for money to conduct the arming and training mission because it expects foreign
donors to fund the program. In any case, the Pentagon has billions of dollars
in wartime contingency funds it can ask Congress to release.
Hagel testifies again before the House panel Thursday. Secretary of State
John Kerry appears before separate panels Wednesday and Thursday.