Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) announced Tuesday he is planning to introduce a bill that would authorize the president to launch strikes on Syria, despite warnings that an expansion of the ongoing air war on neighboring Iraq would only make ISIS stronger and further embroil the region in violence.
Nelson — senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee — revealed his intentions to propose the legislation following the release Tuesday of a video depicting ISIS beheading U.S./Israeli journalist Steven Joel Sotloff, whose execution was preceded by that of U.S. journalist James Foley. The representative of Sotloff's home state of Florida, Nelson said he will file the still-unspecified legislation as soon as Congress reconvenes next week. The senator directly referenced the political debate over whether the president has the constitutional authority to levy air strikes without Congressional approval, stating, “This will ensure there’s no question that the president has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria."
Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams, "Obviously there is a need for Congress to be engaged on this issue." However, she argued that the solution is not for Congress to "give the White House carte blanche to bomb whoever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants. That's what they did after 9/11, and it led to the chaos in the region that we see now."
Following news of Sotloff's execution, Obama declared Wednesday in a news conference from Estonia that "justice will be served." The President stated, “Our objective is clear, and that is to degrade and destroy [ISIS] so that it’s no longer a threat not just to Iraq but also the region and to the United States." However, he went on to acknowledge that it will be impossible to completely eradicate the organization. Obama's speech followed his declaration last week that the U.S. has "no strategy" for fighting ISIS and comes amid escalating rhetoric from war hawks, as well as voices from within Obama's party, calling for military intervention.
But experts on the region warn that U.S. war with ISIS will only play into the hands of an organization that is itself the product of U.S. invasion and occupation.
"ISIS has grown strong and gained recruits, money, and territory from the violence in Syria and Iraq," Stephen Miles of Win Without War told Common Dreams. "They depend on those conflicts. If you are exacerbating them by taking part in Syrian civil war you will play right into their hand. The U.S. will give them a rallying cry in the war against us."
He added, "It is pretty clear that Syrian conflict is one in which there has never been a solution that involves American military power."
"When you look at Iraq, when the U.S. bombs ISIS, the press spin in the U.S. is that we are going after the bad guys. But what people in Iraq see, especially Sunnis, is that the U.S. is weighing in on the side of the Kurds and Shia against Sunnis," said Bennis. "When the U.S. bombs ISIS, it undermines every effort they want to make to persuade Sunnis to break with ISIS. It means [Sunni] alliances stay with ISIS despite their violence and brutality."
Since August 8, the U.S. has been rapidly expanding its war on ISIS in nearby Iraq, launching at least 124 air strikes, deploying more than 1,000 troops, and accelerating weapons shipments to Iraqi and Kurdish armed groups. Meanwhile, U.S. drones are currently conducting surveillance flights over Syria, in what could signal coming air strikes in that country as well. Few details about the military escalation — including combatant and civilian casualties, the specific air craft and military branches used to launch strikes, and ground cooperation with Iraqi and Kurdish forces — have been released to the public.
The push for renewed strikes on Syria comes almost one year after a political U.S. push to launch air strikes against the Assad regime — an effort that was met with strong resistance by the U.S. public. Critics warn that the rush to launch air strikes on Assad's most powerful opponents illustrates the confusion and emptiness of U.S. foreign policy.
"Maybe next month we will be on verge of bombing someone fighting ISIS," said Bennis. "Anytime you identify a force that is beyond-the-pale evil and all you can do is bomb them, you are doomed to failure. You can't bomb extremism out of existence."