Obama force proposal 'needs toughening'

2015-02-13 10:45
President Barack Obama. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

President Barack Obama. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

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Washington - US congressional Republicans vowed Thursday to toughen President Barack Obama's day-old legislation to authorise military force against Islamic State fighters, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi warned, "It's going to be hard" to find common ground.

Nothing underscored the yawning divide between the two parties than Obama's request to bar "enduring offensive combat operations" from the struggle against terrorists who have seized territory in Syria and Iraq and beheaded hostages.

The Republican leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, said disapprovingly that Obama's proposal would "tie his hands even further" than current law.

But Pelosi, recalling the long, difficult war in Iraq, said the president "has to be commended" for proposing to limit his own power.

Rescue missions

Obama is seeking a three-year authorisation for the use of force against the Islamic State militants or any successor groups, without regard to international boundaries. His proposal would leave in place 2001 legislation approving military action against al-Qaeda following the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 against the US.

At the same time, the president would repeal legislation passed in 2002 in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. As for ground combat operations, Obama says he does want flexibility allowing rescue missions, intelligence collection and the use of special operations forces in possible military action against Islamic State leaders.

Failure to pass any legislation would mark a significant political defeat for Obama, with unpredictable consequences overseas at a time of expansive terrorist threats, a confrontation between the West and Russia over Ukraine and international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

Boehner was among several Republicans who said the president's plan wasn't up to the job of defeating Islamic State forces.

"I want to give our military commanders the flexibility and the authority that they need to defeat our enemies," he said. "And that's exactly what Republicans will make the case for as we move through rigorous hearings and oversight on this issue."

Eventual compromise

Officials said Boehner's concern was stoked in part by statements from administration officials saying that Obama envisions more limits in the current struggle than in the one launched after terrorists hit the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in 2001.

While Obama's legislation landed in Congress with a thud on Wednesday, some senior lawmakers appeared to be trying to create room for an eventual compromise.

The Senate's three top Democrats, Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer, have all refrained from commenting since the proposal was released, an unusual silence on an issue of such significance.

And Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he hoped for a bipartisan measure to emerge.

Overarching strategy

Administration officials are expected to testify at hearings in support of the president's proposal, beginning after next week's scheduled congressional vacation. There is no announced timetable for a vote in either house.

Boehner, like other Republicans, said Obama has yet to produce an "overarching strategy" to deal with a terrorist threat.

Representative Ed Royce, a Republican, referring to US-led airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, said the "campaign isn't pummelling the enemy as it should".

"Congressional authority is of no value if the president isn't willing to act decisively," added the chairperson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  isis  |  barack obama  |  iraq  |  syria  |  us

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