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Paris attacks spur US Senate calls for new war powers

Published 19/11/2015

Republican senator Lindsey Graham is to propose a new authorisation for military force against IS (AP)
Republican senator Lindsey Graham is to propose a new authorisation for military force against IS (AP)

The Paris terror attacks have given new impetus to a US Senate cross-party push for new war powers to fight Islamic State (IS) militants.

But last Friday's massacre which killed 129 people has also underscored the unwillingness of many in Congress to cast the first war vote in 13 years.

Many members remain reluctant to vote on legislation giving President Barack Obama new authority to fight IS. Republican House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan says the White House already has the legal authorisation it needs to combat the extremists.

To fight IS, Mr Obama has been relying on congressional authorisations given to predecessor George Bush for the war on al Qaida and the invasion of Iraq. But critics say the White House's use of such post-9/11 precedents is a legal stretch at best and they note that the battle has grown exponentially.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said he planned to introduce, after the Thanksgiving recess, a new Authorisation for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, against IS militants responsible for last week's bombings.

Mr Graham's legislation would not put any time or geographic restraints on the US military or intelligence services' battle against IS, authorising the US to take the fight anywhere for as long as necessary.

The bill would allow the deployment of US ground troops to fight IS and not restrict America in working to disrupt the militants' recruiting efforts, propaganda and communications.

"We must allow this president and every future president to do whatever is necessary to destroy IS before they hit us here at home," Mr Graham said. "This authorisation will mirror the approach we took against al Qaida after 9/11."

Earlier this week, Democratic senator Tim Kaine and Republican counterpart Jeff Flake spoke on the Senate floor to call for a new AUMF in the wake of attacks in Paris and in Beirut.

Two powerful suicide bombings tore through a crowded Shiite neighbourhood of Beirut, killing 43 people and wounding more than 200 others, on November 12. IS claimed responsibility.

Mr Flake argued that the campaign to destroy IS warranted its own specific authorisation because of its size and the growing role of the US military in combating the group.

In June, Mr Flake and Mr Kaine introduced a bill authorising the president to use US special forces for three years against IS and associated persons or forces. The bill was meant to repeal and replace the 14-year-old 2001 AUMF passed after 9/11.

Mr Obama, travelling overseas, ridiculed Congress for failing to come up with legislation authorising the use of military force in Syria that he has been seeking for months.

In February, the administration proposed a three-year authorisation to fight IS, unrestricted by national borders. The fight could be extended to any "closely related successor entity" to the IS extremists, but the measure did not sanction large-scale ground operations.

Republican senator John McCain, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has called Mr Obama's proposal "nonsense", saying the White House knew it would get no real support in Congress.

After Mr Obama sent over his draft of a new AUMF, 30 members of the House asked then-speaker John Boehner to bring it up for debate and a vote. Instead, Mr Boehner suggested the president rip it up and start again.

Reluctance to vote runs deep and many in Congress prefer to criticise Mr Obama's policy in Iraq and Syria without either authorising or stopping the fight so they cannot be held politically accountable.

The vote in 2002 to allow the invasion of Iraq was politically perilous for many politicians and is shadowing 2016 presidential candidates today.

At a weekend Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton, who has been dogged by her vote in favour of the Iraq war, said she believed that the 9/11 war powers gave Mr Obama the legal authorisation to fight IS. But she added: "I would like to see it updated."

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