Democratic senator: Obama still has no strategy for Syria


Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Tim Kaine, D.-Va., says he has yet to see a “credible strategy” for battling the Islamic State in Syria. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. Tim Kaine said Wednesday that President Obama still does not have a clear strategy for confronting the so-called Islamic State in Syria. Kaine, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a Virginia Democrat, also cautioned his party’s candidates not to prioritize issues like restrictions on gun ownership above improving the economy.

“I don’t think any Democrat need to fear taking a position in favor of reasonable gun rules, like universal background record checks,” he told Yahoo News in an interview broadcast on Sirius/XM Channel 124.

“I don’t think any Democrat should be afraid of it. And I’ve been advising my colleagues that. I think it’s fine,” Kaine explained. “I think the one sensitivity is, because most voters are still primarily concerned about the economy, that if you talk about an issue that they agree with you on — but you don’t talk about the issue that they really want to hear about — then it may not be that good.”

Some analysts have blamed support for restrictions on gun purchases for Democratic electoral defeats this week in Kentucky and Virginia.

Kaine, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave a very cautious welcome to Obama’s shift in policy on Syria last week. The White House announced Friday that the president had ordered up to 50 U.S. special operators to be based in that war-torn country. Those elite commandos will advise and assist rebels who are battling the Islamic State but who also find themselves under fire from forces loyal to strongman Bashar Assad. Kaine said that the White House still lacks a clear strategy for taking on the Islamic State in Syria nearly 16 months after U.S. bombs first started striking the group.

“They’ve got to put a credible Syria strategy on the table,” Kaine said. “They’ve got to put a strategy on the table that deals with the ISIL third of the problem, with the Assad third of the problem, and with the massive humanitarian disaster third of the problem. And they’re just not doing that.”

Kaine said the administration’s approach to taking on the Islamic State in Iraq was relatively clear, but “in Syria, it’s just not really a strategy.”

The senator also said it’s past time for Congress to debate and vote on a resolution to authorize — and potentially restrict — military operations against the Islamic State. The White House insists that it has all of the legal authorities it needs in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaida, but Kaine forcefully rejected that position as an “Alice in Wonderland argument.”

Kaine lamented that the Obama who ran for president in 2007 vowing to rein in American military intervention has given way to a commander in chief who has embraced a potentially dangerous view of executive war-making power. The senator worried that this assertiveness and congressional unwillingness to challenge the White House would leave a terrible legacy to the next president.

“I’m a strong supporter of the president. I think ISIL is evil. I think the United States should be undertaking military action against ISIL. But not without a vote of Congress,” he said. “Because if we allow this president, or any president, to wage a war for 16 months without needing the permission of Congress, we’re setting a horrible precedent.”

And, Kaine continued, “I would think this president would want to finish his term in office as somebody who had imposed some order on a disorderly, kind of carte blanche grant of power rather than walking out of office having participated in a broad expansion of the doctrine of undeclared executive war.”