FPI Conference Call: ISIS and the AUMF: Framing the Debate

Yesterday, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hosted a conference call on President Obama's request for the authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute and Vance Serchuk of the Center for a New American Security offered their perspectives on the developing situation.
In addition to the full audio of the event, FPI believes the following quotes will be helpful for policymakers, lawmakers, and the general public to understand the nuances of the AUMF, as well as the consequences of American action, and inaction, with regard to ISIS.

The Price of American Hesitation

 “The thing that I find unfortunate about the president’s request is that it is really not something that reflects a grim determination to succeed on the battlefield.” – Thomas Donnelly

“I view the AUMF more as a snapshot of our current domestic confusion about the use of military force, particularly in the Middle East. In saying that, I am less interested in the particulars of the president’s request or what the Congress should or should not do to modify it, but it is surely, if nothing else, a reflection of the confusion bordering on schizophrenia that we have about the use of military power, particularly in the Middle East.” – Thomas Donnelly

The Uncertainty of U.S. Strategy

 “The Islamic state is the product of a particular set of political circumstances and forces in the Middle East. In that respect, ultimately defeating it requires not simply killing its leaders and its followers, but having a strategy to deal with those underlying political dynamics and forces. Once again, my hope would be that the coming congressional debate can put a spotlight on precisely that question, whether we have a strategy to that end and if so, what is it?” – Vance Serchuk

“It is pretty clear from the congressional response, on both sides of the aisle, that there are precious few political leaders who are seeing the war as it is, who are seeing the enemies – plural – as they are, and third, who have any serious thoughts or deep seated resolve in a way that would lead to a good outcome.” – Thomas Donnelly

“The AUMF debate is going to focus a great deal on the question of how we destroy the Islamic State, how we end it. But I think one of the things we should also ask ourselves is – and I hope that is really considered during the course of the debate is not just what is the path to defeating the Islamic State, but also what happens after the Islamic state has been defeated. What does a sustainable long-term strategy look like?” – Vance Serchuk

The Dangerous Role of Iran

“I think that Iran has been absolutely central to understanding the dynamics that gave rise to the Islamic State. There is obviously a school of thought that says the Islamic State is an enemy of Iran and the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I actually think in the Middle East sometimes that the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy.” – Vance Serchuk

“If the result of the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq is that it paves the way to Iraq’s effective takeover by Shia militias that are answerable to Iran, that would not be a very successful outcome for U.S. foreign policy or U.S. national interests. So I would hope that in the context of the coming debate questions about what comes next beyond the immediate stated objective are also raised.” – Vance Serchuk

“Because the administration really is willing to do almost anything to get a deal with Iran and the president even speaks fondly of the constructive role that Tehran might play in a regional order, we are … either unwittingly or unintentionally, or maybe even intentionally, expecting that Iran will be our proxy in preserving the regional order so we don’t have to. I think that’s wrong and to the point of insanity almost.” – Thomas Donnelly

Atrocities and Sectarian Divisions

“Unless there is that decent political order that [Iraqi Sunnis] are able to participate in, they will not turn against the Islamic State, and the Islamic State or other radical Sunni extremist groups will continue to find that there is a pool of recruits, a pool of radicalized individuals that they can draw from, and we are not addressing the real problem.” – Vance Serchuk

“It is very clear that the president wants to do the minimum amount possible to be seen to be responding to ISIS atrocities without doing anything that’s serious about intervening in the war.” – Thomas Donnelly

“As much as we naturally have gravitated towards and fixated on the atrocities that are committed by the Islamic state, it is worth remembering that the overall majority of casualties, of people who are being killed in Syria today, are not being killed by the Islamic State – they are still being killed by Bashar al-Assad and his forces, who continue to drop barrel bombs, who continue to use heavy weapons against civilian centers. And as long as people are getting their entire neighborhoods blown to pieces, people buried in rubble, I think it is going to be a very, very difficult proposition to say to them, ‘we need you to stand up and fight, not against the people who are doing this and against whom we are providing no protection, but against another force entirely, because it’s in our national interest that you do so.’” – Vance Serchuk

Sharing the Military Burden

 “Militarily, I think that the contribution is not chump change, I think that we are seeing some genuinely meaningful things that our Arab and European allies are doing. I think it is very, very important just as the way the conflict is perceived, this is not perceived as a U.S. campaign against the Islamic State, but that it’s actually multinational with very, very much a Muslim and Arab face on the campaign in part. And … I think it’s important for our own domestic politics. If this is going to be a long campaign and I think by definition, by necessity, it is going to be, I think that it helps sustains public support here at home for Americans to feel that the burden of this exercise is not solely on us, but that there is shared responsibility and others are stepping up.” – Vance Serchuk

“If what ensued in Iraq after 2003 is a cautionary tale about how ambition in U.S. foreign policy can result in calamity, then I think Syria is a case study in how caution, which is also something which is a virtue under most circumstances, can produce equally great calamity.  I think that there was a temptation and tendency to say, ‘We’re just gonna have the pendulum swing in the other direction; you see what happens when we get involved in a place, look at the mess, therefore let’s not get involved in a place.’ The result, in so many respects: the worst refugee crisis since World War II, the greatest flood of foreign fighters in history, the extraordinary carnage that has taken place there, all illustrate that there are no simple formula on how to manage the world.” – Vance Serchuk

Speaker Biographies

Thomas Donnelly, a defense and security policy analyst, is the codirector of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.  He is the author, coauthor, and editor of numerous articles, essays, and books, including Operation Just Cause: The Storming of Panama and Clash of Chariots: A History of Armored Warfare.  He is currently at work on Empire of Liberty: The Origins of American Strategic Culture.  From 1995 to 1999, he was policy group director for the House Committee on Armed Services.  Donnelly also served as a member of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission and is a former editor of Armed Forces JournalArmy Times, and Defense News.  He holds an M.I.P.P. from the School of Advanced International Studies at The Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. from Ithaca College.

Vance Serchuk is an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.  Since August 2013, he has been executive director of the KKR Global Institute, based in New York.  He previously served for six years as senior foreign policy advisor to Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and as a professional staff member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.  Prior to working in the Senate, Vance was a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.  During the first half of 2013, he was a Council on Foreign Relations-Hitachi International Affairs Fellow based in Tokyo and wrote a monthly column on foreign affairs for the Washington Post.  Vance’s writings have also appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and other publications.  He is a summa cum laude graduate of Princeton University, holds a JD from Yale Law School, and was a Fulbright scholar in the Russian Federation.  He is an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Dr. David Adesnik is the policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative, where he focuses on defense and strategy issues.  Previously, Dr. Adesnik was a visiting fellow at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.  For two years, he served as deputy director for Joint Data Support at the U.S. Department of Defense, where he focused on the modeling and simulation of irregular warfare and counterinsurgency.  Dr. Adesnik also spent several years as research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses.  He has been the recipient of fellowships from the Council on Foreign Relations, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia.  His work has been published in Foreign Policy, The Weekly Standard, The National Review, The Washington Free Beacon, The Washington Quarterly, Forbes.com, FoxNews.com and The Daily Caller.  Dr. Adesnik holds a doctorate and master’s degree in international relations from Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar.  He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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