THE BLOG

Confronting Terrorism Without Another American Ground War

02/13/2015 03:45 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015
mbell via Getty Images

Three months ago when Democrats were in control of the Senate, I voted in the Foreign Relations Committee for an AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force) which authorized the President to continue working with a broad coalition to degrade and destroy the terrorist group ISIL.

Unfortunately, that sensible AUMF never got a vote in the full Senate.

President Obama is absolutely correct that our nation must confront these ruthless terrorists. But he was also correct to promise that America would not be sending U.S. combat troops back to the Middle East to fight another ground war.

This is the commitment the President made last June when he said, "I think we always have to guard against mission creep, so let me repeat what I've said in the past: American combat troops are not going to be fighting in Iraq again." He made the same point again during his State of the Union Address last month when he stated, "Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group."

That is why I was so surprised by the Administration's draft AUMF which would allow this Administration and the next one broad discretion to commit American troops in the fight against ISIL. The only limitation is no "enduring offensive ground combat operations."

At best, this language is vague, overly broad and confusing - and no one has defined the meaning of "enduring." At worst, it is a dangerous loophole that could lead to another large-scale conflict involving tens of thousands of American troops. I cannot and will not support such an AUMF.

Even worse, some of my Republicans colleagues are now pressing to pass an AUMF with virtually no restrictions at all. Some of these same lawmakers have argued that the only way to defeat ISIL is to have American troops on the ground fighting against ISIL wherever they go.

It is stunning to me that so many lawmakers have forgotten the lessons of the Iraq War. After a disastrous war that was launched under false pretenses and claimed the lives of more than 4,000 American service members, the last thing America needs is another ground war in the Middle East.

Let me be clear: ISIL is a threat to the civilized world and we cannot allow its reign of terror to go unchecked. The group's vicious fighters kidnapped and murdered four innocent Americans. They savagely burned to death a Jordanian pilot, and killed two Japanese citizens and two British aid workers. They have slaughtered thousands of ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, raped and enslaved thousands of women and girls, and trained children as young as 12 or 13 as fighters.

No civilized country should stand by in the face of this savagery. But this is not a battle America should be expected to wage alone.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me that I should never expect someone else to fight my battles for me. When ISIL comes after Americans and threatens our national security interests, we should fight back - and that is exactly what we are doing. But our partners in the region must also step up and fight their battle. They must be the combat boots on the ground - Iraqi boots, Kurdish boots, and moderate Syrian boots.

That is what the President is supporting now and his AUMF should reflect his strategy, which I believe is the right one. We are using our air power. We are providing critical intelligence. We are training and supporting our allies.

This strategy is already proving to be successful in halting ISIL's momentum by preventing the massacre on Mt. Sinjar and pushing ISIL out of the strategic city of Kobani. These efforts have been backed by more than 60 countries.

The AUMF that I voted for three months ago would allow us to continue this strategy. It would impose meaningful restrictions on U.S. ground combat forces while still providing the President flexibility to conduct critical missions such as search and rescue, targeted strikes against high-level targets, and training and support of regional forces.

If we have learned anything over the last decade, it is that we cannot commit tens of thousands of American service men and women to another limitless conflict in the Middle East. I am hopeful Congress will learn the lessons of these tragic foreign policy mistakes, which have cost our country so dearly. The AUMF that we pass must reflect these lessons.

Senator Boxer is the senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and will be voting on the AUMF.