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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

December 9, 2014 at 11:42 AM

Jim McDermott: Obama needs debate over war against ISIS

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, voted against Iraq war authorization in 2002.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, voted against Iraq war authorization in 2002.

Updated at 1:50 p.m. with comment from Adam Smith:

WASHINGTON — Last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott voted against the 2015 defense policy bill to protest expanded deployment of U.S. military forces against the radical group ISIS, which calls itself Islamic State.

On Tuesday, the Seattle Democrat followed up in a Capitol Hill newspaper to warn against more American bloodshed in Iraq. He also demanded that President Obama — a constitutional law professor — seek new formal congressional authorization for the escalating military campaign.

McDermott vehemently objected to provisions included in the National Defense Authorization Act allowing the Obama administration to expand operations against the Islamic State by deploying another 1,500 U.S. forces as well as extending a congressional authorization from September for the president’s plan to train and equip Syrian opposition fighters in hopes of beating back the Islamic State.

The House passed the defense policy bill by 300-119 vote with overwhelming support of Republicans and a majority of Democrats. McDermott was the only lawmaker among Washington’s 10-member House delegation to vote no.

The defense bill, which is awaiting a vote in the Senate, also contains a slew of public-lands measures supported by several members of the delegation. Among them is a long-awaited expansion of Alpine Lakes Wilderness near Seattle, co-authored by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

In his op-ed for The Hill newspaper, McDermott called for full debate and explicit war authorization to avoid what his fellow liberal Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland called “Iraq War 2.0.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

“Our nation’s use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is becoming a full-fledged military campaign in Iraq,” McDermott wrote. “We continue to arm and train the allegedly moderate Syrian opposition, and yet we still have no better sense from the White House what the broader mission entails beyond ‘degrading and defeating’ ISIS, nor have we reflected seriously on our problematic history with proxy wars.”

Through a spokesman, McDermott said Obama’s piecemeal requests “for a couple of hundred troops here and there and a few billion dollars here and there” is no way to fight a formidable terrorist organization. The Vietnam War, McDermott noted, began with a president who similarly wanted to send in military advisers instead of ground troops.

McDermott’s position contrasts with that of Rep. Adam Smith of Bellevue, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Smith insists training and equipping the Iraqi Army and Syrian rebel groups is a limited authorization, not green light for full-scale military force.

In an email Tuesday, Smith said he believes Congress should pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the fight against ISIS.

” The President does have broad authority under Article Two to act against national security threats to the United States and ISIS clearly meets that threshold, but over the long term such a connection can be tenuous,” Smith said.  “We need a clear AUMF from Congress on what military action the president can and can’t take in this fight.”

At the same time, Smith has dismissed a push by hawkish Republicans who have repeatedly called for as many as 20,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. After almost nine years in Iraq, $1.5 trillion and nearly 4,500 Americans killed, Smith said, Iraq and Syria must provide “the boots on the ground in their own country” against the Islamic State.

Comments | More in Congress, Politics Northwest | Topics: Adam Smith, ISIS, Islamic State

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