What a difference a decade makes. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday finally began debating an authorization for the ongoing war against ISIS, the secretary of state urged them to grant the White House a much wider berth than the draft bill would:
Specifically, Kerry asked his former colleagues not to limit the use of military force to those two countries where Obama already has launched airstrikes, nor to bar the president from deploying combat troops on the ground, despite his repeated assurances that he will not do so. “In our view, it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside of Iraq and Syria,” Kerry said. On the use of ground troops, the secretary reiterated Obama’s policy that “U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL.”
But he doesn’t want Congress to put that in writing [in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)]. “That does not mean,” Kerry said, “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.” As examples, he said the administration needed flexibility to execute hostage rescues or respond if ISIS acquired chemical weapons outside the region.
And while Kerry was very clear on what the administration didn’t want in the AUMF, he had nothing to say about what powers they actually did want. The White House, after all, still refuses to put forth its own draft AUMF, so we still have no idea what constraints, if any, the administration envisions for this war. Jack Goldsmith analyzes Kerry’s testimony:
What the administration appears to be seeking is an open-ended IS AUMF akin to the one that Congress gave the President for al Qaeda and affiliates in the 2001 AUMF. In addition to the features noted above, the administration would like an “associated forces” extender but (apparently) not a reporting requirement about covered groups or places. This would replicate the problem under the 2001 AUMF of Congress (and the American people) not necessarily knowing who we are fighting against, or where. …
Pretty amazing coming from an administration whose Chief Executive said in his NDU speech 18 months ago (i) “Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may . . . continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states,” (ii) that he “look[ed] forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the  AUMF’s mandate,” and (iii) that he “will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.” I view Kerry’s testimony as the final repudiation of this element of the NDU speech, and as an acknowledgment that the “Forever War” is not close to over.
Morrissey is even less charitable:
Obama got elected by promising to end the war in Iraq, and then got re-elected by bragging that he’d done so by pulling out. All he did was set the stage for the war to expand exponentially, and with it the threat to the region and the West. Now Obama wants to avoid the political consequences of the failure of his policy by trying to get Congress to step in front of him while Obama prepares to re-enter the war he left behind. Republicans aren’t going to take the bait no matter how much they see the need for a forward strategy against ISIS, and neither are Obama’s Democratic allies.
The defining characteristic of this administration’s foreign policy has always been a failure to lead. It’s just becoming a lot more obvious these days.
Karl Vick rolls his eyes at yesterday’s proceedings:
The entire exercise, in a Lame Duck session, was academic at worst, and at best a dress rehearsal for the new year, when the Republicans will take control and — given the hawkish tenor of the GOP members — likely give Obama all the freedom he asks. Except for Paul, who scolded the administration on strict constructionist grounds, the harshest words were from Sen. John McCain, who called the hearing “kind of a charade.” The Arizona Republican stormed out after refusing to concede Kerry’s suggestion that more moderate Syrian rebels the administration has promised to arm are not, in fact, being left to die — owing, Kerry hinted, to secret measures that could not be discussed in a public setting. “More is being done, and more is being done than I can talk about in this hearing,” he said.