Senators were so eager to put their imprint on the Iran nuclear deal that 47 Republicans wrote a letter about it to that country’s leaders before any deal has been finalized.
But when it comes to the deteriorating situation in Iraq, there is precious little advice or consent coming from the Senate, and the silence is equally resounding in the House of Representatives.
As for the 2016 presidential candidates, they’ve been looking backward not forward, sniping over President George W. Bush’s military entry into Iraq a dozen years ago and President Obama’s exit in 2011.
Among the lawmakers and White House hopefuls, only Sen. Lindsey Graham has offered a concrete proposal about the current situation, calling for sending 10,000 American ground troops back to Iraq.
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“It will take thousands of American soldiers over there to protect millions of us back here at home,” the South Carolina Republican, who says he’s close to announcing a White House run, told CNN on Monday.
That appeal fell on deaf ears in Congress, where senators and representatives have approached the Islamic State’s capture of Ramadi and other gains by the jihadist group as a topic best left to TV commentators.
Lawmakers from both parties insisted that Obama’s proposed plan to slow Iran’s nuclear program be voted on in Congress.
In contrast, congressional resolutions to authorize military action against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and beyond have gathered dust for months.
With presidential candidates still arguing over whether going to war in Iraq in 2003 was a mistake, lawmakers don’t appear eager to take a stand on an anti-Islamic State strategy that, judging from recent history in the Middle East, has as much chance of failing as succeeding.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, has gathered only 30 signatures on a letter urging Speaker John Boehner to bring to the floor Schiff’s measure providing limited authorization for use of military force against the Islamic State.
Schiff is so frustrated by the lack of movement on his measure that he’s taken to scolding his colleagues.
“Nine months into the undeclared war against ISIS, Congress still refuses to act,” Schiff said in a May 7 statement, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “First, it was said we shouldn’t vote on the war until after (last fall’s) election. Next, it was argued we had to wait until the president sent us a draft. Later still, it was maintained that we couldn’t take up the matter until we voted on an Iran deal that has yet to be consummated. Never mind that we have no duty to vote on a negotiation and the highest obligation to vote on war.”
Schiff plaintively asked: “How many excuses must Congress make? How long must the Constitution wait?”
In one of the few congressional hearings on a resolution authorizing use of military force against the Islamic State, Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who is running for president, grilled Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
At a March 11 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Paul expressed concerns that the measure would give Obama and his successors too much power to wage war against the Islamic State.
“Under this resolution, I believe you could have unlimited number of troops in Iraq,” Paul said. “I understand you say it’s not contemplated. I also believe that you could have unlimited numbers of troops in Libya and Nigeria.”
During a series of exchanges with Carter, Paul suggested that “30 nations” had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State – a misstatement that exaggerated the number of radical groups that have claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.
“I have to deal with words that 15 years from now I have to explain to my kids and their families and their kids’ kids – that something I voted for in 2015 still has us at war in 2030 in 30 different countries,” Paul said.
He added: “It’s not your sincerity I question, it’s the politicians and the next politician and the next politician after you.”
When the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 14 approved a $612 billion defense authorization bill for next year, its staff put out a 38-page summary of the legislation.
The summary contained only two references to the Islamic State: a one-sentence description of helping Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon confront the militant group and a second sentence providing Lebanon and Jordan a combined $125 million to protect their borders against the jihadists.