The Escalation of Unauthorized Wars
It seems like ages ago now. But it’s worth remembering how America’s latest war in the Middle East began.
In early August, shortly after militants from the Islamic State had taken over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, President Obama authorized a volley of airstrikes. The goal then was to save Yazidis, an ethnic minority, who were being slaughtered and displaced by Islamic State militants, and to prevent the terrorist group from slipping into the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north. The White House described it as an urgent, limited intervention that was necessary to avoid genocide.
“As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq,” President Obama said at the time. Those words were suspect then. They seem preposterous now.
Over the past nine months, the United States and a small network of allies have carried out more than 4,050 strikes in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to weaken the Islamic State, a stunningly resilient terrorist group that poses an enormous menace to the region and the West. As of April 9, the war had cost American taxpayers more than $2.1 billion, or roughly $8.6 million per day, according to the latest data released by the Pentagon.
Over the weekend, American Special Operation forces sneaked into Syria to carry out a risky raid that represented a striking escalation of the campaign. This week, Washington began expediting the delivery of powerful rockets the Iraqi government intends to use to beat back Islamic State advances in western Anbar Province.
When the first American bombs began slamming into Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration argued that the war authorizations Congress passed in support of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan more than a decade ago provided sufficient legal cover. That claim was flimsy then. It, too, seems preposterous now.
As the war intensifies, it is more urgent than ever for Congress to approve a new Authorization for Use of Military Force that would provide adequate oversight and clearly articulate the long-term strategy for the fight against the Islamic State. The new mandate should replace the ones the administration is currently relying on and set clear limits that would preclude future administrations from using military force around the globe, anytime, anywhere, without consulting Congress.
Despite this obvious need, however, Congress and the White House appear to have quietly given up on passing a new A.U.M.F. In February, a White House proposal for a three-year authorization that would have given the Pentagon wide latitude to fight the Islamic State and affiliated groups provoked a listless and inconclusive debate. Democrats criticized the proposal as too expansive and Republicans deemed it too restrictive.
This week, the House speaker, John Boehner, called on the White House to submit a new proposal that gives the executive branch even broader authority. That’s wrong for at least two reasons. An expansive, open-ended war authorization of the sort Mr. Boehner and like-minded Republicans have in mind is a recipe for a new military quagmire. It also ignores Congress’s constitutional responsibility to declare, authorize and allocate funds for wars. For nearly a year, with a few notable exceptions, lawmakers have appeared perfectly willing to abdicate that responsibility as the White House has escalated its military engagement in the region using an ever-shifting series of rationales. That has set a disturbing precedent that future presidents may be tempted to exploit.
Last weekend, there was virtually no political blowback when the Pentagon announced it had ordered a risky operation by Delta Force troops, who sought to capture, but ended up killing, a midlevel Islamic State leader. This mission into Syria was the first of its kind that the American military has disclosed. Officials said the raid netted a bounty of intelligence and dealt a blow to the Islamic State’s financial operation. That may well be. It is, however, deeply troubling to consider what would have happened if the troops had been taken hostage or killed in pursuit of a man most Americans had never heard of.
“If the operation had gone wrong, we would have had to send people in for a rescue operation,” said Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California who has sought to win support for a sound war authorization that includes geographic and time limits. “The risk of escalation is very significant. We’d be much further into this war without ever having had a vote on it.”
Source: New York Times
Next Article Previous Article