President Barack Obama’s decision to seek authorization for the battle against Islamic State extremists will test the ability of a divided Congress to agree on a war strategy for Iraq and Syria.
After insisting for months that he has all the authority he needs to launch the airstrikes already under way against the radical Sunni group, Obama reversed course and called for a new authorization for the use of military force a day after his party lost control of the Senate.
“The world needs to know we are united behind this effort and the men and women of our military deserve our clear and unified support,” Obama said yesterday at a White House news conference.
While some lawmakers of both parties have advocated an authorization vote since the airstrikes began in August, passage of a resolution will expose political fault lines over how and whether the U.S. should conduct another war in the Middle East.
“It’s going to be very messy,” said James Jeffrey, Obama’s former ambassador to Iraq who’s now an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “They’re going to try to dictate specific tactics and strategies.”
Jeffrey said the decision to seek an authorization now — after saying for months it’s not needed — only weakens the hand of a president whose credibility on foreign policy matters has been undermined.
“The whole world thinks he wants to wimp out of war,” Jeffrey said. “It’s another indication that he doesn’t want to own this,” he said of the battle against Islamic State. “If you don’t want to own this, you’ve lost.”
SOURCE: David Lerman, Roxana Tiron, and Phil Mattingly