Three of America’s top national security officials face questions in Congress about new war powers being drafted to fight Islamic State militants, Iran’s sphere of influence and hotspots across the Mideast.
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will testify today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a high-profile hearing that likely will cover a myriad of US foreign policy issues.
The hearing is being conducted to get more details on what the Obama administration wants to see in a new authorization for the use of military force against IS. In seeking a new authorization, the White House must reconcile demands from Democrats who don’t want another ground war with the concerns of Republicans who want that option left open. Legislation will set up the first war vote in Congress in 13 years.
On February 11, President Barack Obama released his proposed authorization. It would allow the use of military force against IS for three years, unbounded by national borders. The fight could be extended to any “closely related successor entity” to the IS, which has overrun parts of Iraq and Syria. He ruled out large-scale US ground combat operations reminiscent of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Initial reaction in Congress amounted to bipartisan skepticism, with much of the dissatisfaction centered on Obama’s attempt to find a political middle ground with respect to ground forces.
Republicans expressed unhappiness that he had chosen to exclude any long-term commitment of ground forces, while some Democrats voiced dismay that he had opened the door to deployment at all.
The 2002 congressional authorization that preceded the American-led invasion of Iraq would be repealed under the White House proposal, a step some Republicans were unhappy to see.
But a separate authorization that was approved by Congress after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks would remain in force, to the consternation of some Democrats.
The struggle to define any role for American ground forces is likely to determine the outcome of the administration’s request for legislation. The White House has said that the proposal was intentionally ambiguous on that point to give the president flexibility, although the approach also was an attempt to bridge a deep divide in Congress.
Kerry is likely to face questions about international negotiations involving the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China with Iran over its nuclear program ahead of a deadline at month’s end for a framework for an agreement.