U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was grilled in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon.
Yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey remarked that the United States may eventually need to send soldiers in as ground troops for the ISIS (ISIL) campaign.
In Wednesday afternoon’s hearing, Kerry took multiple opportunities to unequivocally state that would not be case. He repeated that U.S. soldiers would not have a combat role and that the troops deployed would serve only in support missions and training capacities.
However, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) pressed Kerry, asking if the president and the administration would change their position should they find out that inserting U.S. ground forces would be the only viable way to defeat ISIS.
Kerry responded that he wouldn’t “entertain a hypothetical,” saying, “If we're failing and failing miserably, who knows what decision they're going to make.” He insisted that there were numerous other possibilities that would take place before reversing the decision to involve American soldiers.
The Secretary also made the case for the president’s authority to act alone in executing airstrikes outside of Congress’ official approval, citing the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). He argued that the administration was acting under the pervue of the law, because the language provided for executive authority to combat “Al Qaeda and associated forces” (with ISIS being a direct offshoot of the group). Kerry welcomed the committee’s call for the passage of a new AUMF and said he encouraged cooperation with Congress moving forward.
Others senators used their time to express concern over exactly who was being classified as a “vetted moderate” Syrian, whether the Free Syrian Army would actually fight ISIS as opposed to Assad (who many claim is and even bigger enemy than ISIS to the opposition), and whether or not providing arms would unintentionally empower the terrorist group or the Assad regime.
While many members of the committee expressed their desire to engage in some sort of combative action against ISIS (with the exception of Senator Rand Paul), almost all were uncomfortable with the level of detail they currently have from the administration on the duration of the operations and the extent to which the coalition of other countries have committee to the fight.
Without providing detail in an “unclassified” setting, Secretary Kerry reiterated his confidence in the coalition he has been working to build over the past week, saying the “world will begin to see what all of these countries are prepared to do.”
“If we do this right, this effort could become a future counterterrorism model.”
Confusion still runs rampant as the early stages of this war progress. Both Secretaries Kerry and Hagel will be back on the Hill tomorrow to address the House’s concerns and questions and continue to sell the president’s anti-ISIS agenda.
“ISIL must be defeated. Period. End of Story,” Kerry said. “And collectively we are all going to be measured by how we carry out this mission.”