US President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Obama administration’s proposed new war policy for fighting Islamic State has been presented mostly as striking a balance between greater intervention wanted by Republicans and lesser intervention wanted by Democrats.
That is partially true.
But once you dig deeper into the details, it becomes clear that in many ways, the proposed law that the US president hopes that Congress will adopt leans heavier toward potential for greater intervention.
Yes, the policy would be more restricted than many prior similar policies, because it specifically limits ground forces and requires a reauthorization of the policy in three years.
But it is not the first policy to have a time limit.
US president Ronald Reagan’s 1983 intervention into Lebanon was limited to an even shorter 18 months.
Also, “sunset clauses” rarely actually end wars that are popular or considered necessary by the president, with various national security policies from the George W. Bush administration era having been reaffirmed year after year.
They just force Congress to go on record again and vote.
More important, the limit on ground forces is only on “enduring” ground forces for “offensive” operations, and from the start exempts some thousands of US soldiers already in the field.
No one actually knows how long “enduring” is, and while those wanting an early end to operations could try to use the three-year sunset clause as a guide-stick, there is nothing to stop the next US president from defining enduring as much longer than three years or anything less than permanent.
Also, no “offensive” ground forces, leaves open defensive ground forces.
With thousands of soldiers already there, putting in thousands more “defensively,” even if they are put in positions where they might get attacked and need to defend themselves by returning fire, could be a way a future president will interpret the law.
At the end of the day, the limits on ground forces in the proposed law are undefined and it would not place a real end date on the new fight.
At most, those limits were Obama’s signal that as long as he is president, he is not anxious to get drawn into major ground operations and wants to leave the next president an exit.
But it will be the next president who chooses whether to take that exit or to expand on the openings that Obama’s proposed law leaves for him.