As the release of a report on the CIA's use of torture in a previous war against terrorists consumed Capitol Hill on Tuesday, a key Senate committee began debate on a resolution authorizing a much newer counter-terror campaign: President Obama's military offensive against the Islamic State.
Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the Senate panel he once led—the Foreign Relations Committee—to urge lawmakers not to constrain the president as he wages war against ISIS terrorists in Iraq, Syria, and wherever he needs to follow them. Though Obama has stressed repeatedly that the new conflict will be limited, and the U.S. would not be "dragged back" into another quagmire in the Middle East, the authorization his administration is seeking could allow for a much broader war.
Specifically, Kerry asked his former colleagues not to limit the use of military force to those two countries where Obama already has launched airstrikes, nor to bar the president from deploying combat troops on the ground, despite his repeated assurances that he will not do so. "In our view, it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside of Iraq and Syria," Kerry said. On the use of ground troops, the secretary reiterated Obama's policy that "U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL." But he doesn't want Congress to put that in writing. "That does not mean," Kerry said, "we should pre-emptively bind the hands of the commander-in-chief—or our commanders in the field—in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee." As examples, he said the administration needed flexibility to execute hostage rescues or respond if ISIS acquired chemical weapons outside the region.