Moderate Democrats seek war strategy
Pressure Obama to fight Islamic State
Moderate Democrats are breaking with their party’s left and with President Obama on the Iraq-Syria war strategy, basically pleading with the commander in chief to come up with a more decisive plan for defeating the Islamic State’s terrorist army.
Democratic leftists want American troops brought home, but moderates are staking out different territory. Sounding a bit like Republican hawks, they want the president to delve into the counter-Islamic State campaign more deeply — especially in Syria with its huge migrant crisis.
Right now, there is no concerted effort to stem the migrant flow, and the administration’s ballyhooed plan to train and arm anti-regime rebels failed. All the while, the top brass say the battle against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS, is stalemated and that Russia has bolstered President Bashar Assad’s grip on power.
One of those moderates is Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, who appeared on morning cable shows this week to say the administration’s plan is not working in Syria. It was there where the Islamic State rose up and took territory as the Assad regime fought other groups in the Arab Spring uprisings.
“I think the strategy in Iraq is pretty clear,” Mr. Kaine said on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.” “Whether it is succeeding or not and what you think of it is another thing. But in Syria, what we have is basically three challenges. We’ve got the Assad challenge, the ISIL challenge and the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. And the United States really doesn’t have a coherent strategy for putting them together.”
The senator from Virginia went on to say that the U.S. reaction to date “isn’t a comprehensive strategy. And I put a lot of blame on the president, but I put even more blame on the shoulders of Congress.”
He accused lawmakers of taking a “hands off” approach because they are not debating a war authorization bill.
“Congress is just trying to keep its fingerprints off this, and it’s one of the most shocking examples of congressional abdication of an important power — the power to declare war — in the history of this country,” he said on MSNBC. “I think after the president made that commitment, ‘Assad must go,’ he raised expectations in Syria and then he didn’t follow through on it because he realized, frankly, the limits of America’s ability to change a regime that did dash a lot of hopes and expectations. That was unfortunate.”
Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military scholar at the Brookings Institution, said there is “a definite trend” among moderate Democrats to encourage the president to do more.
“Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of just how involved we’ll get. But I think there is a growing recognition, implicit for some and explicit for others, that we need to do more and need to do better because what we’ve been trying hasn’t worked and has led to disastrous consequences, including now for European allies with refugee flows,” Mr. O’Hanlon told The Washington Times.
Another moderate Democrat, Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, was even more blunt than Mr. Kaine when he questioned Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On Syria, he said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in late October, “We seem lost. We seem lost, and at confusion about what to do next, unable to put any real marker down or have any plan for success. The people are voting, and they’re voting with their feet. They’re leaving. There’s refugees all over the world now, and we have the opportunity to set up safe zones, and what I hear is we’re worried about the Russians, we’re worried about the Syrians, we’re worried about all of these things. I mean, at what point do we put a plan together, execute the plan, tell them what we’re going to do and say stay out of the way?”
Mr. Obama has opposed setting up safe zones in Syria or no-fly areas. At one point, he called such proposals “mumbo jumbo.”
Another Democrat, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, said at the same hearing, “It’s hard for us to say, ‘ OK, at the end of the day, here is our end game.’ And if somebody has any explanation for that and tells me what we’re trying to accomplish, I would be happy to hear it.”
These Democrats are issuing moremeasured versions of the criticism issued by hawkish Republicans, such as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain of Arizona.
The left wing of the Democratic Party is also unhappy with Mr. Obama’s strategy — not because it is unclear, but because it drew the U.S. into another war.
In June, a large majority of House Democrats, 120 of 188 members, voted for a resolution ordering Mr. Obama to pull all troops from Iraq and Syria.
At the time, the Pentagon had sent over 3,000 troops to Iraq in a mission to equip, train and advise Iraqi forces trying to take back territory from the Islamic State and its self-styled caliphate.
No U.S. ground forces were in Syria, but Mr. Obama late last month approved sending 50 special operations troops into Syria to advise selected rebel groups fighting the Islamic State in a guerrilla war where the meaning of “the front line” is vague.
Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, spearheaded the troop withdrawal legislation, partly motivated by the fact that the Republican-led Congress will not vote on a resolution to authorize the Iraq-Syria war.
“This House appears to have no problem sending our uniformed men and women into harm’s way,” he said. “It appears to have no problem spending billions of dollars for the arms, equipment and air power to carry out these wars. But it just can’t bring itself to step up to the plate and take responsibility for these wars.”
Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat and one of Congress’ most vocal anti-war activists, talks of the “danger of a quagmire in Iraq and Syria.”
“Greater involvement in Syria and Iraq will not make us any safer,” she wrote Oct. 30 in a letter to the editor of The New York Times. “But it will cost more lives in an endless war with no exit strategy.”
Ms. Lee, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a press statement that it is time to repeal the 2001 Authorization of Use of Military Force resolution — passed under President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — on which Mr. Obama is basing the intervention.
“It is past time to repeal this blank check for endless war and re-establish Congress’s long abdicated responsibility to debate and authorize military action,” Ms. Lee said. “After more than a decade of war in the Middle East, it is clear that there is no military solution.”
But the Democratic Party’s mainstream view seems to be moving more toward the interventionist position of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and vice chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Like Mr. Kaine and others, she said the president is simply not doing enough. She pointed to the Islamic State’s claim, which intelligence officials are increasingly believing, to have brought down a Russian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula, killing more than 200 people.
“I hope it’s a wake-up call to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and I hope to some extent it’s a wake-up call to us,” Ms. Feinstein said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I have said before and I really believe it, we will fight them now or we will fight them later. It’s only a question of time.”
She said Mr. Obama’s deployment of 50 commandos in Syria is not enough.
“That won’t do it,” she said. “If we’re really going to use special operations, quick in, quick out, you have to do it in a much more comprehensive way to get at ISIL. This just isn’t one facility. It’s not one building in Raqqa or somewhere else. It’s many different places.
“The other thing that seems to be emerging is the belief that bombing alone isn’t going to do it. We’ve had over 7,000 sorties; others have made sorties as well. We have made the majority of the sorties. And that hasn’t changed the dynamic.”
Syrian President Bashar Assad is keeping his hold on power with the help of Russia, with various factions fighting to overthrow him.