Republican senator McCain slams Kerry's Congress hearing as 'charade,' calls for fighting al-Assad
WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before Senate Foreign Relations Committee on combating ISIL, Dec. 9. AFP PhotoU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Congress on Dec. 9 for new war powers to provide the legal grounding for U.S. military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but faced strong criticism from Republicans for not giving authorization to fight Syrian regime troops.
Kerry said any new authorization should not limit the fight to Iraq and Syria and should not bind President Barack Obama from ever deploying ground troops against ISIL if necessary. Moreover, Kerry said the administration wants to make sure that any authorization does not too narrowly define militants found alongside ISIL because it would, for example, make it difficult for the U.S. military officials on the ground to identify enemy forces.
Sen. John McCain, a strong Republican critic of Obama's foreign policy in Iraq and Syria, called the hearing a "kind of charade" because the authorization was not expected to become law before the new Congress starts in January. He said Obama needs to present a draft authorization to Congress in January. "He should lead and tell us what that authorization should be," McCain said.
McCain also accused the administration of failing to come to the aid of the Syrian people, with 200,000 dead in the nearly four-year civil war. The moderate Syrian rebels "honestly do not understand why you won't protect them from" barrel-bombings and attacks by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, McCain told the committee.
McCain further criticized the Obama administration for not giving the Syrian opposition the military equipment and weapons it needs to fight against al-Assad who is "slaughtering" his people.
In the U.S. battle against the Islamic militants, Obama has been relying on congressional authorizations that former President George W. Bush used to justify military action after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the U.S. Critics say the White House's use of post-Sept. 11 congressional authorizations is a legal stretch at best.
Obama has insisted that he had the legal authority to send about 3,000 U.S. troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces, and launch hundreds of airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria since September. More recently, the president has said that he wants a new Authorization for Use of Military Force, but Kerry's testimony is the first time an administration official has publicly outlined what elements the White House wants to see in a proposal.
Generally, Kerry said the administration is seeking an authorization that does not include a geographical limitation. The U.S. does not expect to take military action outside Iraq or Syria, but that "it would be a mistake to advertise to" the ISIL militants that they have safe haven outside those countries.
Secondly, Kerry said that while the president does not intend to send combat forces to fight ISIL, "we should not bind the hands of the commander in chief."
Thirdly, Kerry said that the confrontation against ISIL will not be over quickly and that while the administration does not seek an open-ended authorization, it wants it to include a provision that would allow for it to be extended.
The draft resolution would limit operations to three years and allow ground forces in some circumstances. It also would compel Obama to provide Congress with a comprehensive strategy and repeal the Bush administration's 2002 Iraq war authorization. Kerry said the administration would agree that any new authorization would supersede the 2002 authorization.