Obama Announces His Anti-ISIS Strategy—Congress and Others Push Back
September 12, 2014 • 9:15AM

The strategy that President Obama laid out, Wednesday night, for his war on ISIS (or ISIL, as the administration prefers to call it) in Iraq and Syria, seems to be little more than a larger-scale version of the drone campaign he has been carrying out in Yemen. After all, he said so himself.

"This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years," he said. It's on a much larger scale, involves a greater variety of military assets, and involves numerous other countries, but axiomatically, it's the same thing, drilling bad guys with precision weapons wherever we find them. Experts on Yemen, and not a few Yemenis, have been saying for years that the drone campaign there, has been creating more terrorists than it has killed, and it has killed quite a few innocent civilians, too, and has been contributing to the political turmoil in that country as well.

The campaign to "degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy" announced last night has four elements:

1) A systematic campaign of airstrikes against the terrorists. In short, the US is going on the offensive.

2) An increase of support to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting the terrorists on the ground with an additional 475 US troops on the ground in Iraq to provide advice and to collect intelligence. "These American forces will not have a combat mission," Obama promised. "We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence, and equipment." According to the Pentagon statement issued shortly after Obama's speech, these additional 475 troops will be involved in the following missions: "advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces in order to help them go on the offense against ISIL, conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights to increase U.S. capacity to target ISIL, and coordinate the activities of the U.S. military across Iraq."

3) "We will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks," and Obama will be personally chairing a meeting at the UN Security Council in two weeks "to further mobilize the international community around this effort."

4) Further humanitarian assistance to civilian populations that are displaced and threatened by ISIS.

Obama is not planning to go to Congress to ask for permission to do this. He believes he has the authority he needs. "I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL, but I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together," he said. "So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger." This includes providing Obama with the $500 million he already asked for to support training of the "moderate" Syrian opposition to Assad (if he can find it). "[I]t is very important for Congress, as a part of their commitment to support efforts to go after ISIL, to support the need for additional training and equipping of Syrian fighters who can carry out that mission on the ground inside of Syria.," said the background briefer.

As for Obama's authority, the senior administration official, briefing reporters, yesterday, ahead of the speech, said, "[W]e do not believe the President needs that new authorization in order to take sustained action against ISIL. We believe that he can rely on the 2001 AUMF as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing against ISIL, for instance. And we believe that he has the authority to continue these operations beyond 60 days, consistent with the War Powers Resolution, because the operations are authorized by a statute. "

The question of ground troops in Iraq was apparently a hotly contested one between the White House and the military. According to the Washington Post, Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of US Central Command, recommended putting in a Special Forces contingent "to advise and assist Iraqi army units in fighting the militants," and this was conveyed to the White House by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, but it was "cast aside" in favor of options that didn't require American ground troops in a front line role. "The American people will once again see us in a war that doesn't seem to be making progress," retired Gen. James Mattis, Austin's immediate predecessor at Centcom, told the Post. "You're giving the enemy the initiative for a longer period."

In remarks earlier in the day, Secretary of State John Kerry hedged on the question. Kerry reiterated that Obama has said no U.S. combat troops would be deployed to fight the Islamic State in Iraq, before adding, "Unless, obviously, something very, very dramatic changes."

Boyle/Lang Blast Obama's Strategy as Illegal And Unworkable

In his initial impressions of President Obama's speech, Professor Francis Boyle charged, first, that Obama was warmongering on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary "and exploiting it to warmonger is a real disgrace." Secondly, Boyle characterized Obama's speech as "An argument for preventive warfare, rejected at Nuremberg when the Nazi lawyers made it. That's what a Harvard Law School Degree will do for you."

Obama's vow to hit ISIS in Syria is "clearly illegal and unconstitutional," and his plan to insert another 475 troops into Iraq is "in violation of War Powers Resolution and War Powers Clause of [the] Constitution." Obama's demand for money to give to the Syrian opposition is "clearly illegal" and "clearly regime change." His plan to chair a UN Security Council meeting in two weeks' time to rally support for his plan is "very dangerous if he gets a Chapter 7 Resolution like Libya that he will then use to overthrow Assad government in Syria like he did to Ghadaffy in Libya." (The Russians, of course, won't agree to such a resolution, but the intention is clear). Obama's claim that he has the authority is "baloney. These are impeachable offenses."

"Sure, this is the way the Vietnam War started. Step by step. Yemen and Somalia. So obviously he is going to drone people to death with enormous civilian casualties," Boyle concluded. "Compared 9/11 to recession. Pretty sick. Russian aggression in Ukraine. American Exceptionalism. Combination of humanitarian intervention; fighting terrorism; and preventive warfare. No justification under the UN Charter for any of them."

Retired DIA officer Col. W. Patrick Lang was no more charitable to Obama's plan in . Lang warned that Obama's plan has too many moving parts, increasing the risk of failure. Among the moving parts to which Lang pointed are the following:

The plan assumes that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar can be made active supporters of the anti-ISIS war. "Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were instrumental in the early stages of development of IS as it morphed from AQ Iraq, into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and then to a final glory as IS," Lang writes. "Do we really think it will be easy to enlist Qatar and Saudi Arabia in this fight?" Turkey, Lang reminds us, "provided shelter, supply lines, transit rights and training space for IS among other Sunni jihadi groups fighting in Syria. The Turks are still doing this."

Lang cites the military maxim that holds that you can never have too many friends on the battlefield, yet the Obama Administration is rejecting overtures from both Iran and Syria, and intends to wage two wars in Syria, against ISIS and against Assad. He also notes that Obama has ruled out deploying US ground forces, so who will provide the ground forces to fight ISIS? Not Turkey, for the reasons already cited. The Iraqi army is in a shambles. The Kurdish pesh merga are a self-defense force unlikely to be interested in fighting outside the Kurdish region. Egypt and Jordan will want to keep their forces at home. The Persian Gulf states don't have ground forces with any real combat power.

"In the end, if a decisive outcome is desired, there will be no alternative to substantial US ground forces. That will mean reconstruction of the US logistical and command and control base in Iraq as well as the use of several air bases," Lang writes.

Senators and Congressmen Demand Obama First Seek War Authorization

Controversy rages on Capitol Hill about President Obama's plans to mount a military attack on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Congressional demand that he seek prior authorization from both houses — an authorization for the use of military force — before initiating war.

The Hill reported from the Senate floor, that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that it would be "totally preposterous that he would not seek our authorization" to use military force against ISIS. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, "We need to have a robust debate and there needs to be a bipartisan effort," and "War is expensive. He needs to come to Congress to get the appropriations."

After Obama's speech, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cal.) said in a press release that "The Constitution requires Congress to vote on the use of military force. ... The facts are clear. We are no longer talking about limited strikes to prevent genocide and protect U.S. personnel. We are talking about sustained bombing and the use of military force. ... before we take any further military action, Congress must debate the threats to our national security, the risks to American servicemen and women and the financial costs of waging another war in the Middle East."

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Col.) said in a press release, "... I believe any expanded U.S. military role beyond airstrikes in the fight against ISIL in Iraq must be approved by Congress. The American people must be assured that we are not pursuing another open-ended conflict in the Middle East, and I will not give this president — or any other president — blank check to begin another land war in Iraq. ... I will continue to demand that the administration provide a very clear picture of its goals and objectives."

As published by CQ Transcripts (obvious transcription errors corrected):

* Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Fox "Cavuto" show: "I do think it's imperative that the President takes his plan to Congress, that if the President wants military intervention abroad, he needs to present that plan to Congress, not just a drive-by notification to a handful of leaders within Congress, but a proposal, a request for authorization for the use of military force to be approved by both houses."

* Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) on MSNBC: "... if the President has the power to initiate this kind of conflict without Congress stepping in, then there is virtually no limit to what is called the Article II Authority of the executive. The Constitution is a pesky document, but it applies whether there is an election pending or not." Asked about the partisan political implications of vote on authorization, Sen. Murphy said, "There are rare moments when we make decisions about war and peace, about life and death. This is one of them. I mean we get elected to weigh in on these tough decisions."

* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Fox News "Hannity" show said, "He should have come before a joint session of Congress, laid out his plan as he did tonight, and then called for an up or down vote on whether or not to authorize going to war. ... it isn't the constitutional way. It doesn't in any way represent what our Constitution dictates, nor what our founding fathers intended. So it is unconstitutional, what he's doing."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Fox News "Kelly File": "Well, I think the President should come to Congress and ask for authorization." In the President's speech, "he brazenly declares, I have the authority to wage war regardless of what Congress says. You know, my copy of the Constitution says Congress has the authority to declare war. Now, the President has inherent authority as commander-in-chief to respond to an exigent threat. But President Obama didn't propose any response to an exigent threat, he proposed a multi-year military campaign."