We Need a Full Debate on Iraq and Syria

From a Rep. Nick Rahall Release
There’s no doubt that Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) militants in Iraq and Syria are a threat to U.S. citizens in the region, as well as to our military personnel and facilities, and allies like Israel.


The beheading of American and European citizens, and the atrocities being committed against Christians and religious minorities in the region, along with the rapid conquest of areas in Iraq and Syria by these Islamic extremists, have made crystal clear that this is a dangerous organization that we dare not turn our back on.


The President has outlined his strategy for defeating the Islamic State militants, which includes expanded air attacks and assisting regional armies in Iraq, as well as coordinating with international partners to cut off financing and the flow of fighters into the region. 


The President has now also proposed expanding air attacks to include Syria, plus training and equipping Syrian rebel forces to fight ISIS militants – proposals that rightly garner grave concern.  In addition, he has deployed U.S. military personnel and advisers to the region -- nearly 1,600 U.S. soldiers in total since June -- and he has claimed the authority to do all of these things without Congressional authorization.


I firmly believe that the Administration should be pressed to fully explain its strategy and rationale for success to the American people.  Any commitment of American resources should only be done as part of a broad coalition of allies, and no American combat troops should be deployed without specific Congressional authorization.


Congress has a role to play -- there must be a Congressional debate.  The war powers being claimed by this President are sweeping.


Under many frightening scenarios, these military actions announced by the President could pull the United States into another costly, open-ended military conflict in the Middle East, which is why the Congress must take precautions to build some checks and balances around the President’s strategy.


The Congress has included a provision in a temporary spending measure to authorize one part of the President’s strategy – the training and arming of Syrian rebels – but it has also required Congressional notification before any such military assistance begins.  This will give the Congress an opportunity see which groups the President and his Administration propose to support with military aid. 


The resolution passed by the House also sunsets the President’s authority to train Syrian rebels in December, which gives the Congress and the American people another opportunity to take a look at the situation. 


This sets up a scenario requiring the President to come back to Congress and provides for a fuller debate on the strategy for dealing with the threat posed by these militants. 


That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. 


The potential for air attacks spreading into Syria, the deployment of military advisors and security personnel to the region, the entire strategy for defeating the Islamic State militants -- all of these things need to be considered as part of a full debate in the Congress.  There must be an opportunity for the views of the American people to be considered. 


I believe that every step possible must be taken to protect against American weaponry falling into the wrong hands.


We need to gauge the effectiveness of the coalition the Administration is putting together.  There are broad declarations of support for defeating ISIS, but we have yet to see what that means in actual commitments of troops and military resources, air support, finances, intelligence, and regional diplomacy.


It’s important, as well, that the Administration not take its eye off of other potential threats.


This is a risky strategy the Administration has opted to pursue.  American lives and resources are being put at grave risk.  We must take steps to require the President to come back to the Congress and continue to explain his plan and the prospects for success to the American people. 


U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) represents West Virginia’s Third Congressional District.  For more information, contact Diane Luensmann at (202) 225-3452, or visit http://rahall.house.gov.

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