The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee criticized President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry for failing to seek proper congressional authority to expand airstrikes against the Islamic State, and said this failure is all the more unbelievable given that they all served in the Senate.
"We have three senators — the president, vice president, and secretary of State — that are exercising terrible judgment right now," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said at a hearing where Kerry was testifying.
A Republican senator criticized President Obama and his team, including Secretary of State John Kerry, but failing to seek congressional authority to attack the Islamic State. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
"To say that you're going to do this, regardless of what we say, you're not going to ask for buy-in by the United States Senate or House of Representatives on behalf of the American people, in a conflict that you say is going to be multi-year, some people say a decade, taking us into another country with a different enemy, is exercising the worst judgement possible," he said.
Corker spoke moments after Kerry argued that the authorization for use of military force that Congress approved in 2001 is enough legal authorization to go and fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State didn't exist in 2001, but Kerry said the 2001 AUMF has "always been interpreted as including Al Qaeda."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) noted that Al Qaeda threw out the Islamic State, but Kerry insisted that the 2001 AUMF covers "Al Qaeda and associated forces."
The actual language of the 2001 AUMF makes no mention of any phrase like that.
"[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons," the 2001 language reads.
Menendez is known to be writing a new AUMF to deal with the Islamic State, and told Kerry directly that the 2001 language is not enough.
"I will tell you, that at least from the chair's perspective, you're going to need a new AUMF, and it will have to be more tailored," he said.
Kerry responded by saying the administration would "welcome" a new AUMF. Corker essentially accused Kerry of claiming to want new authority, but at the same time being unwilling to actually work with Congress on new language, and said his comments show the administration is playing a "political game."
"I'm disappointed that you as secretary of State, after being chairman of this committee, after espousing the views that you've espoused in the past, our of convenience, and parsing legal words, would make the statement you just made," Corker said.
Corker also pressed Kerry for specifics of the operation and what other countries might contribute to the effort. But when Kerry said he can't reveal all the details at this time, that only prompted Corker to say it's hard to support a plan they don't know much about.
Aside from the question of new authority to fight the Islamic State, senators asked how long Kerry thinks the U.S. will be in this fight. Kerry indicated it's an open-ended commitment.
"The military action ends when we have ended the capacity of ISIL to engage in broad-based terrorist activity that threatens the state of Iraq, threatens the United States, threatens the region," he said. "That means ending their ability to live in ungoverned spaces, have a safe haven, and be able to control territory and move at will to try to attack the United States or other places."
But just as Obama has done, Kerry stressed that the U.S. would not commit any ground troops to this effort.
Later Wednesday, the House is expected to vote on language authorizing the administration to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. But there is no plan at this point to authorize broader and more direct U.S. actions against the Islamic State.