Will it take a Baltimore Orioles/Washington Nationals World Series to bring members of Congress back to Washington soon? If so, it only highlights Congress’ cowardly unwillingness to exercise its Constitutional responsibility and vote on the ISIS war. This least productive, shortest session of Congress ended with no debate on President Obama’s new response to the terrorist threat roiling in the Middle East with potential spillover far beyond Iraq and Syria. Shame on them!
Prime Minister David Cameron called members of Parliament back to London to hear the case for military intervention. That was leadership. Some in Congress fault President Obama for waging war without their approval. He acknowledged that a decision of this sort is stronger with bipartisan support from the legislative branch of government. The President could have called them back but failed to do so. He follows a long line of Presidents who have acted the same way, even though Obama (2008 version) talked about the importance of Congress’ role and differentiated himself from Hillary Clinton on Iraq, winning the nomination.
Speaker John Boehner and Senate President Harry Reid could have called their members back from electioneering. There is bipartisan support for the President’s strategy of targeted air strikes in Iraq and Syria, counter-terrorism actions against the leadership of ISIS, going after ISIS’ financial sources and training indigenous ground troops. Is the fact that they agree a reason why the GOP doesn’t want the discussion before the elections, when they’re intent on running against the President?
Action was essential in the wake of dramatic events culminating in the beheadings of American journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff. We do need to be deliberative when embarking on a course putting American lives at risk, but the President’s slowness to retaliate was frustrating. Now, finally, he is acting. His muscular UN speech last week was a 180-degree turn from his highly qualified foreign engagement principles pronouncements at West Point not long ago. But where do we go from here, for how long, and at what cost?
The 1973 War Powers Act gives the President the authority to act militarily without Congressional approval if the U.S. is in danger. After 60 days, there must be a Congressional vote on declaring war. It’s a reasonable concept, but the last time Congress formally declared war was 1942, and we have had numerous wars since then. Congress did authorize military force to combat terrorism in 2001 in Afghanistan. A year later, another vote authorized war in Iraq.
The volatility of the region, coupled with complex tribal, religious and ethnic rivalries, makes the stakes very high. But intractable regional issues and lives on the line aren’t the only reasons we need a full debate now. Remember, President George W. Bush’s going to War in Iraq without saying how it would be paid for was one of the prime reasons for the economy-weakening deficit President Obama assumed when he took office. What new taxes are we willing to pay or programs are we willing to cut to pay for this new open-ended engagement? We also need all our elected officials to debate our relationships with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as with the Syrian opposition— and with our so-called Saudi and Qatari allies who have also been funding the ISIS cause.
Clearly, some of the difficulty of assembling a coalition is the President’s having walked away from his “red line” in Syria. How steadfast should our commitment be? Remember Reagan’s bailing on Lebanon when our marines were killed. What happens if other nation’s ground troops aren’t up the to the task? Mission creep has started. We already have US personnel in boots on the ground in Iraq.
There’s widespread agreement that achieving the goal to “degrade and destroy” ISIS will take a long time. Probably years. You can’t do this without public debate. Whether our Congressmen or women are for or against this third Iraq war plus, they don’t deserve our votes in November if they’re not willing to return to Washington now for a full debate and vote on the issue.
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