Springfield-area lawmakers split on Obama military force request

Posted on February 13, 2015 08:29 am CST

Springfield News-Leader
Deidre Shesgreen

Springfield-area lawmakers greeted President Barack Obama's request for authority to use U.S. military force against the Islamic State with a mix of support and skepticism.

The reaction suggests that the three-page resolution — sent to Congress by the White House on Wednesday morning — will be the subject of fierce debate in coming weeks, as lawmakers press the Obama administration to outline a more detailed strategy for confronting the terrorist group.

The White House proposal would allow limited use of ground troops, but it would bar the use of military forces for any "enduring offensive ground combat operations." It also would expire after three years, and it would repeal a 2002 authorization used to authorize the war in Iraq.

The Islamic State has seized territory in Iraq and Syria and shocked the public with its killings of American, British and Japanese hostages. The group is often referred to as ISIS or ISIL.

The debate in Congress — among Missouri lawmakers and others — is already dividing along partisan lines. Democrats expressed support for restrictions on any U.S. military campaign, saying the U.S. needs to avoid becoming deeply entangled in another war. But Republicans said they wanted to see a more robust response from the Obama administration, without limits that the White House has outlined.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., did not directly answer a question about what changes, if any, he would like to see in the proposal. He said key elements of the proposed resolution were ill-defined, and he wanted more detail from the Obama administration about how it would beat ISIS.

"I think there are a number of questions to be answered before the Congress moves forward," Blunt told reporters Wednesday. "The principal question is, do we really have a strategy that allows us to" defeat ISIS?

More specifically, Blunt said the term "enduring offensive ground combat operations" was too vague and he questioned if three years was enough time to accomplish the mission.

A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Blunt just returned from a trip to Jordan and Turkey, where he and other lawmakers on that panel learned more about the threat ISIS poses. ISIS recently released a video showing the killing of a Jordanian pilot the group had captured.

Asked if he would support a broader resolution that authorizes the use of American ground forces, Blunt said "there needs to be ground troops of some kind," but he suggested they should come from neighboring countries in the Middle East.

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., said he hadn't had time to review the White House proposal. But, he said that before he could commit to supporting military action, "I need to know what the end goal is" and how the administration will accomplish that mission.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, did not offer her opinion on the substance of the White House proposal.

She said it was "the right course of action" for Obama to request the authorization and she looked forward to considering it "in a thoughtful and informed manner."

"… We have the duty to provide our military with the tools needed to defeat a threat such as ISIL, and we must examine all options," she said. "Congress has an important obligation on oversight and deliberation when debating the authorization of the use of military force."

The lone Democrat in the region's delegation — Sen. Claire McCaskill — said the White House proposal struck a good balance.

"This authorization isn't as limiting as some would like, or as open-ended as others would like," said McCaskill, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I think it's a good start toward a responsible proposal that would give flexibility to our commanders while sending a clear message that countries in that region must step up and provide for their own security."

John LaBombard, a spokesman for McCaskill, said she had not decided whether to seek changes to the measure. But she believes that limitations on U.S. ground forces "will ensure that countries in that region, and not the U.S., will be responsible for conducting large-scale ground operations. Such limitations will help avoid getting America entangled in another lengthy, costly ground war."

If there was one thing both parties agreed on, it was that Congress would have a vigorous debate on the issue and would eventually pass a revamped version of the proposal.

"The delivery of this authorization is the beginning of a legislative process that will involve hearings, markups, and, I'm sure, changes," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Wednesday.







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