White House spokesman Josh Earnest suggested Monday that President Barack Obama will launch a long-term drone war against the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whether or not Congress approves.
He repeatedly declined to say if Obama would seek permission from Congress to launch airstrikes in Syria, but insisted the president would like to get congressional “buy in.”
“The president believes that he has all the authority that is required,” said Earnest. But, he added. “We welcome Congress as a partners, and if Congress wants to participate in the process, we would welcome their participation in a constructive way.”
Obama’s reluctance to seek a vote makes sense, because it reduces the risk of objections by progressive legislators, only weeks before the crucial November midterm election.
The president’s plans will have similarities to operations against al-Qaida affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, Earnest suggested. “There is a track record here,” he said, citing those countries.
U.S. aircraft and special forces have also been used to target jihadis in those countries.
ISIS is very vulnerable to drones, because it lacks air defense weapons to protect its mobile and heavy weapons, or its exposed energy and water supplies.
But Obama is also trying to rally the fractious Iraqi government to provide combat forces for the operation. If successful, that could convert an anti-terror campaign into an airpower-led war against ISIS, similar to the U.S. campaign in Libya in 2011.
In the Libyan campaign, U.S. airpower struck the Libyan army wherever it gathered to block the rebels. The U.S. can’t follow this strategy until local forces — perhaps led by the Iraqi army — advance on the territory captured by ISIS.
Obama wants the Iraqi forces to be in the lead, Earnest said.
U.S. officials are also trying to win support from regional governments and from tribes in northern Iraqi and Syria that share the terrorist group’s Sunni variant of Islam.
Iraq’s government is led by Shia Muslims, who are mostly despised by Sunni leaders.
Iraq’s government is back by Iran’s brutal Shia theocracy, which is also backing Syria’s dictator. Obama wants to defend the Iraq government, depose the Syrian dictatorship and make a nuclear deal with their Iranian backer. In 2010, Obama refused to support pro-democracy protests in Iran.