Mod­er­ate Democrats seek war strat­egy

Pres­sure Obama to fight Is­lamic State

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad is keep­ing his hold on power with the help of Rus­sia, with var­i­ous fac­tions fight­ing to over­throw him.

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