Nelson Lewis Obama

Obama speaking to the press about the threat that ISIS poses.

Earlier today, President Obama opened the door to ground combat operations against ISIS, asking Congress to formally authorize military force against the militants.  If left unchecked, he said, ISIS will continue to pose a threat, and not just in the Middle East.  Obama’s proposal will include limitations to bar enduring offensive ground combat operations, and then let the authorization lapse after three years.  According to the proposal, the authorization wouldn’t allow long-term, large-scale ground combat operations, such as those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, Obama’s request includes no restrictions on where US forces could pursue ISIS.  While the current military campaign is centered around coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Obama’s proposal clearly allows US ground troops to engage.

Obama’s proposed authorization would provide the flexibility to conduct ground operations in limited circumstances, such as rescue operations or the use of special operations forces, as well as the use of US forces where ground combat operations aren’t expected or intended.  According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, this provision would allow special operations missions as well.  The request kicks off what will most likely be a drawn-out debate in Congress.  Already, certain Senators are concerned about the breadth and vagueness of the message’s language.

The White House insists that it’s already gotten the authority to launch airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, although it wants Congress to sign off so that they can demonstrate American unity.  In a letter to lawmakers accompanying the request, Obama urged them to show the world that they are “united”.  The resolution listed various atrocities committed by ISIS against both locals and American hostages.  Obama’s proposal might launch an ideological debate over what authorities and limitations the President should have to fight extremism.  The confirmation of the death of 26 year-old American Mueller has added new urgency to the fight against ISIS, although many are hesitant to have a repeat of the costly and long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama is offering to limit authorization to three years, extending to the next President the powers and debate over renewal for what he views as a long-range battle.  The proposal has no geographic limitations where US forces could pursue elusive militants, and bars “enduring offensive ground combat operations”, which seems to be a very vague term.  The resolution by Obama would repeal a 2002 authorization for force in Iraq, but maintain a 2001 authorization against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, even though Obama said in his letter to lawmakers his goal is to refine and ultimately repeal that authorization.