He could use some U.S. help.

Photographer: Hamit Huseyin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Menendez and Paul Go to War Over Islamic State

Josh Rogin is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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The outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, has written new legislation that would authorize force against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria while ending the 2002 authorization for use of force in Iraq. It's also an attempt to take momentum away from Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, who has called for a Congressional declaration of war against IS.

I have obtained a copy of a draft Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has been circulating among committee members and staff, entitled “Authorization for the Use of Military Forces Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”  The Menendez plan, which he worked on with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, differs from Paul’s resolution in several ways.

Menendez would authorize President Barack Obama to use the U.S. military to fight against IS in Iraq and Syria pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, but would not declare war against the group. But the Menendez bill would allow the use of ground troops much more broadly in Iraq and Syria, compared to the tighter restrictions Paul has proposed.

Paul would limit the president’s authority to using ground troops against IS for the missions of protecting Americans, gathering intelligence and going after high-value targets. Menendez proposes allowing all of those actions, but also permitting the use of ground troops for assisting in coalition airstrikes through on-the-ground targeting, for operational planning and for “other forms of advice and assistance" to forces fighting IS in Iraq and Syria. 

Menendez makes clear in his bill that U.S. forces would not be permitted to participate in missions intended to lead to U.S. ground combat operations.

Also, whereas the Paul legislation would expire in one year, the Menendez bill would sunset after three years. Menendez would also require the Obama administration to report to Congress on the objectives of the anti-IS mission and the exact contributions of coalition partners, and to spell out “a realistic end goal and exit strategy and an estimate of the costs involved.”

Both senators' proposals would repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq. Paul’s version would also repeal the 2001 authorization of use of force against al-Qaeda, after one year.

Menendez intended to unveil his resolution at this morning’s committee business meeting, where Paul tried to force a vote on his version by attempting to attach it to an unrelated clean-water bill sponsored by his Republican colleague and the incoming committee chairman, Bob Corker.

 “This is not the right thing to do today. Is there not some other way for us to deal with this where we actually have hearings, understand it more fully?” Corker said of Paul's ploy at the meeting.  

A two-hour debate ensued, after which Paul agreed to pull his amendment, negating the need for Menendez to counter. Menendez pledged to hold a hearing and another business meeting next week on the issue. Committee sources said that key senators will continue to negotiate over the text over the weekend.

“A hearing and a vote, that’s what I’ve always wanted,” Paul told reporters after the meeting.

What senators  from both parties have criticized, one way or the other, is the administration’s decision not to offer any text for an authorization against IS. Obama officials have relied on existing laws to justify the mission. Without more direction from the White House, Congress might not be able to pass a new authorization this year. Next year, when the Republicans are in the lead, the effort will only get more complicated.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Josh Rogin at joshrogin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net