US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State Group (IS) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014.
Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images
September 17, 2014 4:39 PM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry tried to assure lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. would not be alone in the fight against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, as Congress looks to pass legislation this week to equip and train the “moderate” Syrian rebels.

“This cannot be simply a campaign by the West against the East,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee before which Kerry testified. Kerry responded that Menendez was “absolutely correct.”

“When we say ‘a global coalition’ we mean it,” said Kerry, who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to rally about 40 countries for the fight against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). While there’s currently “no discussion” about countries sending in ground troops, Kerry said some have committed to air strikes. U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday that it has conducted a total of 174 airstrikes across Iraq.

Kerry said military action would end “when we have ended the capability of [ISIS] to engage in broad-based terrorist activity.” The ultimate goals of the fight include a “political settlement” in both Syria and Iraq to end terrorist safe havens there, he added. Kerry said that the U.S. strategy will be a “multiyear effort.”

The top two leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, cautioned the Obama Administration against engaging in such a long military conflict in Syria without new, explicit congressional authority.

“As I have said many times, temporary and targeted air strikes in Iraq and Syria fall under the President’s powers as commander in chief, but if the military campaign lasts for an extended period of time, Congress will need to approve an [ISIS]-specific Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” Menendez said.

Kerry reiterated the Administration’s position that it would act under the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda and associated forces, enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said that when ISIS separated from al-Qaeda a year ago in a “publicity stunt,” the organization did not change its targets and thus was still under the force of the previous congressional authority. Kerry added that he would welcome congressional action, but that President Barack Obama would act if the legislative branch did not.

Corker ripped Kerry’s response.

“To say that you’re going to do this, regardless of what we say—you’re not going to ask for a buy-in from the United States Senate or the House of Representatives on behalf of the American people—in a conflict that you say is going to be multiyear… taking us into another country with a different enemy, it’s exercising the worse judgment possible,” Corker said.

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