A Jordanian soldier on a military vehicle secures the area near the Al-Karameh border point with Iraq. Jordan reinforced its border with Iraq after Sunni Arab militants overran a crossing with Syria. (- / AFP/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON — US senators are taking differing stances on whether another use-of-force resolution would be needed before new US strikes in Iraq, with one saying the situation there “is going to hell.”
The Iraqi government has asked Washington for assistance in fighting off a violent Sunni group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Obama administration has sent 300 military “advisers” there to help, but is holding off on air strikes while trying to cobble together a new political plan for Iraq that includes Shia, Sunnis and Kurds.
The White House’s preferred path of insisting on an inclusive government in Baghdad before launching strikes against ISIL has spurred some lawmakers to call for a new authorization of the use of force, or AUMF, before Obama launches a new Iraq conflict.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., advanced the debate Wednesday morning with a Washington Post op-ed. “I’m open to hearing the case for military action in Iraq,” Kaine wrote, “but first we need a new playbook.”
On the Senate floor later Wednesday, Kaine continued to make his case.
“Congress passed an [AUMF] immediately after ... the 9/11 attacks to allow action against those who perpetrated the attacks on that day,” Kaine said. “ISIL had no connection with the 9/11 attacks. ISIL did not form until 2003.
“ISIL is not al-Qaida, nor is it an associated force,” he said, adding the group “is now an avowed enemy of al-Qaida.”
Kaine sent a message to the White House, bluntly declaring that “it would be a wholly unprecedented stretch to suggest that the 2001 AUMF would justify action against ISIL in Iraq.”
Those comments put him on the opposite side of the debate from other SASC members, including Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who would take the gavel should Republicans take control of the Senate after the November midterm elections.
“Presidents have long asserted the right to act” in a limited fashion and when there is an imminent threat to America, Levin told reporters on Tuesday.
McCain told CongressWatch a new AUMF is unnecessary unless a renewed conflict drags on for months because “limited military action ... has happened many times in the past and the War Powers Act is ambiguous about it.
“If there’s any sustained activity, then yes, I think he should be coming to Congress about it,” McCain said.
Were Obama to huddle with members like McCain, he would hear dire assessments of the situation on the ground in Iraq —and face-to-face pleas for the commander in chief to restart the conflict he vowed to end in his 2008 campaign, which he eventually did.
“The administration is fiddling while Rome burns,” McCain said. “I think they will be forced to do something but I’m afraid it will be too late.
“The situation deteriorates on a daily basis,” McCain said, adding there are reports ISIL is targeting Jordan, a longtime US ally.
The situation is going to hell,” McCain told a group of reporters earlier Wednesday. “And all this administration is doing is sending some advisers.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “an over-reliance on military tactics may address some of the symptoms [in Iraq], but will not get at the root cause of this problem.
“So what the United States has been focused on is looking for ways that we can support Iraq’s political leadership as they pursue an inclusive governing agenda,” Earnest said. “That, ultimately, is the way that this problem gets solved.”
Still, Earnest signaled additional US military assistance remains on the table.
“There are a variety of ways that we can offer that support,” he said. “Some of that has been security assistance, and we’ve talked quite a bit about the material and equipment that the United States has been providing the Iraqi security forces for quite some time now.”
But Earnest returned to the need for a new political roadmap in Baghdad.
“We’ve been engaged in a sustained, high-level dialogue with the political leadership in Iraq about the necessity of that political leadership in Iraq pursuing an inclusive agenda,” he said. “Again, the only way that Iraq will be able to successfully confront the threat that’s posed by ISIL is by uniting that country and ensuring that it’s clear to every citizen in Iraq that they have a stake in that country’s future.” ■