A Senator Makes The Case For Authorizing Use Of Force Against ISIS

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) arrives at a news conference November 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) arrives at a news conference November 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

A year ago today, President Obama submitted an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to lawmakers for the offensive against ISIS.

At that time, February 11, 2015, the U.S. was already conducting airstrikes against ISIS and there were American troops on the ground as trainers. Since then, more U.S. troops have deployed to Iraq, and special operations forces have been sent into Syria.

But Congress still hasn't voted on the mission. Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson speaks with Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who has been pushing for a vote.

Interview Highlights: Jeff Flake

Why hasn’t the vote happened yet?

“I don’t know. I think that Congress is shirking its responsibility here. We need to provide the president the authority to undertake this campaign against ISIS. I think our allies need to hear it, our adversaries certainly do, and we need to speak with one voice.”

The Republicans control Congress. Is there a faction within the party that does not want this to happen?

“There’s a faction of Republicans who doesn’t believe the president needs the authority at all and then some who believe that he needs it, but doesn’t want to give him anything but full-throated authority to do whatever he would like to. Then you have some Democrats as well who don’t want to give the president too much authority, for example to use ground troops, so it’s not just one party. Both parties seem to have a particular problem with carrying through on this.”

On the wording of the original AUMF, which targets perpetrators or suspected perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, which a majority of ISIS probably had nothing to do with.

“I would certainly maintain that and even if the president does have the authority because ISIS, as I think we all accept, is an outgrowth of al-Qaida, still Congress should act. The troops need to hear it, our own troops, and certainly our allies and our adversaries need to hear it as well.”

Would you support a large number of U.S. boots on the ground in Syria?

“I think we ought to wait until our commanders think that. I myself don’t believe that would be particularly useful at this time and neither do our commanders on the ground or the administration. However, I don’t think the authorization should rule that out, and what I and my colleague Tim Kaine have put together in this bipartisan AUMF is something that doesn’t limit the president’s authority or the geography in terms of the use of force, but it does have a section that deals with what we call ‘purpose language,’ and in there we say that the purpose is to defeat ISIS and we don’t believe this should require the use of ground troops. That’s how we kind of saddled the difference and I think we’re going to have to have language like that if we want it to be a bipartisan product and it needs to be.”

What can we do about the refugee crisis in Syria?

“Certainly the situation as it now stands is untenable. The ultimate solution, obviously, is to settle the conflict and there have been efforts by the administration in that regard. Those have been complicated by the entrance of new people into the battle, like Russia, so it’s a difficult situation.”

Is the answer for the U.S. to get more involved or less involved?

“Certainly more involved in terms of leadership. Whether we like it or not, we are the power that can bring people together, but that doesn’t mean we have thousands of troops on the ground in Syria. In fact, I think that will likely be counterproductive, but we’ve got to provide the leadership and probably the plan that will put together some forces that can be on the ground. That’s a difficult thing to do. The administration is working on it, but I can tell you it’s a lot more difficult than perhaps some presidential candidates would have you believe.

Do you think the U.S., in a way, has blood on its hands from inaction?

“Well I do think. It’s no secret, and I’m not alone in this, that our drawing of a red line in Syria and the ignoring it has exacerbated the situation now and has made it difficult for both our allies and our adversaries to either fear us or trust us. Having said that, had we gone ahead and had a military strike following that, I’m not convinced that would have settled the situation, so like I said, it’s more complicated than we like to state it is in campaigns.”


  • Jeff Flake, Republican U.S. senator from Arizona and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He tweets @JeffFlake.

This segment aired on February 11, 2016.



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