WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said the war authorization proposal he unveiled Wednesday strikes the "necessary balance," giving him the flexibility to fight Islamic State militants without setting the nation up for another open-ended war in the Middle East.
Obama sent a draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force to Congress earlier in the day, outlining the limits he wants in the military campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL. His proposal would limit military action against the group to three years and allow for limited U.S. ground troops in situations involving rescue operations or intelligence sharing. It wouldn't put any geographic limits on the military campaign; instead, it would limit military action to countering the Islamic State and associated forces. The AUMF itself would sunset in three years as well.
"This resolution strikes the necessary balance giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances," Obama said during brief remarks at the White House. "If we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders, and our partners didn't have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our special forces to take action."
At the same time, he said, "The resolution we've submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria. It is not the authorization of another ground war like Afghanistan or Iraq."
The White House has worked with lawmakers for weeks to put together an AUMF that both parties can support. Republicans have said Congress shouldn't put any limits on the president's ability to go after the Islamic State. But Democrats, wary of mistakes made during the Iraq war, have pushed for restrictions on troops, scope and duration. It's unclear where the middle ground may be on Capitol Hill.
"Make no mistake: this is a difficult mission," Obama said. "But our coalition is on the offensive. ISIL is on the defensive and ISIL is going to lose."
The reality, though, is that Obama's proposal does nothing to impose new war limits. He's already made it clear that he believes a sweeping 2001 AUMF gives him the authority to fight ISIS -- which he's already been doing, under that authority, for the past six months -- but has said he welcomes a new AUMF from Congress anyway. The proposal he sent to Congress does nothing to rein in the broad 2001 measure, which means that regardless of if or when Congress passes a new war authorization, the 2001 AUMF will remain in effect.
In other words, the only point to the new AUMF is that it will force Congress to go on record in support of military action against the Islamic State. That's a problem for some Democratic lawmakers wary of launching into another protracted conflict.
Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called the fact that Obama's proposal doesn't repeal the 2001 AUMF a "significant omission."
"The reality is that without a sunset on the old authorization, it doesn't limit this administration or the next in any appreciable manner," he said. "That's a key issue in the Democratic Caucus."