Congress Backs Strikes in Syria, But Emphasizes Allied Support

The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) launches Tomahawk cruise missiles to conduct strikes against ISIL targets, Sept. 23, 2014.

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Carlos M. Vazquez II/USN

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The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) launches Tomahawk cruise missiles to conduct strikes against ISIL targets, Sept. 23, 2014.

Congress members largely support air strikes in Syria, but urge President Obama to keep his allies in the fight. By Stephanie Gaskell

Members of Congress threw their support behind President Barack Obama’s decision to launch a military air strike campaign against Islamic militants in Syria—but with one warning: keep our allies in the fight.

“The visible, public involvement of Arab and Muslim nations is crucial to long-term success against ISIS. While Western military force can help combat the poisonous ideology of groups such as ISIS, ultimately it is up to Muslim nations to resist and eliminate this poison,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said.

Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said he supports the strikes against the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) and the Khorasan Group. “These airstrikes are crucial to degrade ISIS’ capabilities,” he said, “but ultimately the terrorist group cannot be defeated by airstrikes alone. The commander in chief must now work to ensure our regional allies are engaged on the ground to effectively eliminate the threat ISIS poses to the region, to our allies, and to the United States.

The U.S. military—along with five Arab nations and backed by a coalition of more than 40 nations—conducted air strikes against ISIS and Khorasan targets in eastern Syria late Monday night. “I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress and I’m pleased that there is bipartisan support for the actions we are taking. America is always stronger when we stand united, and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country,” Obama said Tuesday morning before heading to the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York where he will continue to build and strengthen his coalition.

(Read More: Air Strikes in Syria Are ‘Only the Beginning’)

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“I commend our allies in the region for stepping up and demonstrating their commitment to the fight against ISIL. I’m hopeful these strikes directed at hard targets will result in measurable progress towards degrading ISIL’s capabilities and possibly even taking out ISIL fighters and leadership. As the United States moves forward with military action to defeat ISIL, we must continue to engage our allies in these efforts and work together to eliminate this dangerous cancer.”

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he hopes the coalition is “the first step in building a lasting regional coalition committed to confronting ISIS.”

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said: “With strong coalition partners, a capable military, and a clear mission; it is a fight we can win.”

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that “although there are many questions that have not been answered about the administration’s full strategy, I am hopeful that last night’s actions are indicative of a turning point in U.S. policy in the region.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said on Twitter that Obama needs to come to Congress for authorization to strike in Syria. “We continue to become more & more involved in another Middle East war with no military solution. Congress must debate & vote on all options,” she wrote. Obama is currently operating under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that allows the U.S. to attack al-Qaeda and prevent them from having safe havens to plan attacks against the West.

(Related: The Khorasan Group Was Planning an ‘Imminent Attack’ on the West)

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, said “it’s very significant that we have five Arab states that are openly part of this. I think it’s far more than just providing cover for an American-led war effort, but rather these Arab countries now very much have skin in the game. They’ll have a target on their back by ISIS, and I think it’s going to allow us to get further commitments from them. So I think that was very significant. 

“I also think we’re going to have to work with the administration to make sure that we provide an authorization because right now I don’t think there’s a constitution until underpinning for what the president is conducting,” Schiff said. “Apart from the Khorasan group, which the president has identified as an imminent threat, ISIL has not been an imminent threat. Yes, it’s a long-term threat to the country maybe a midterm threat, but that doesn’t allow under our constitution the president to go to war with that group without congressional authorization. So the argument the administration has made they’re allowed to do it under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Force, I don’t think, holds water and I hope one of the first things we take up when we go back in after the election is an authorization—a narrowly written authorization—that puts this effort on a more constitutional footing.”

Ben Watson contributed to this report.

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