WASHINGTON — US Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican presidential candidate, is seeking a broad mandate for a US war against the Islamic State, unbounded by “time, geography or means."
“We must allow this president and every future president to do whatever is necessary to destroy ISIL before they hit us here at home,” Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday. “We only have two choices regarding ISIL – fight them in their backyard or fight them in ours. I choose to fight them in their backyard.”
Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would soon offer a new authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) proposal that would “mirror the approach we took against al-Qaida after 9/11.”
An outline of Graham’s far-reaching plan outstrips the scope of a proposal by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who renewed their push for an authorization vote on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday, and in a Time magazine column.
The issue has failed to gain momentum on Capitol Hill since President Obama's proposal for the use of military force against the Islamic State group, written to supplement the 2001 AUMF which has been used to cover the current conflict. That proposal died in the House in April, as Republicans deemed language that limited the use of ground troops and its three-year sunset provision as too restrictive.
Since then, Congress has sat on its hands. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said that military action against the Islamic State is "not authorized," but the issue rests more with Congress than with the president.
"I think the Congress is doing what it really does well, which is criticize, sit on the sidelines but not take responsibility," King, who caucuses with Democrats, told MSNBC last month. King is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In June, Kaine and Flake made a proposal that would have authorized action for three years, and it included the use of ground troops only to protect the lives of US citizens under imminent threat.
By contrast, Graham said he would propose an authorization with no expiration date or prohibition on US ground troops. It would also address the Islamic State group’s well documented ability to recruit through social media — with no limits to disrupt the group’s online activities.
“The United States will bring the full force of our technological arsenal to bear in the fight against ISIL,” Graham said in a statement.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, another Republican presidential candidate, proposed legislation roughly a year ago that would have expired in one year. It authorized limited use of ground troops and would have repealed the 2002 AUMF.
Republican leadership seems uninterested in a vote on the topic. House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Tuesday the authority exists under the current AUMF.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, at the CBS News debate in Iowa on Saturday, finessed an answer on the AUMF. She said she wanted to “upgrade” the AUMF, but asserted that the authorization Congress passed after 9/11 already covers "terrorists."
Clinton's interpretation is a broad read on the 2001 AUMF, which authorized military action against people or groups who "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons."
Democrats in Congress aside from Kaine have expressed an interest in a new AUMF, with House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., telling MSNBC, “Congress has taken itself out of a system of checks and balances when it comes to the executive`s power to make war.”
The vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus told reporters on Wednesday that working under an AUMF created 14 years ago to fight a different entity is unacceptable. Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., said “we need to update the AUMF and let every member of Congress who was not here back then have the opportunity to express him or herself.”