09.17.14

New York Times: Will Congress Bother to Debate War Against ISIS?

David Firestone argues that Congress needs to debate a war against ISIL.

As the American war against the Islamic State escalates, Congress is about to shut its doors for the election season and head home. The most it will do is authorize some limited assistance to Syrian rebels, but the Senate will probably not even take a vote on that, instead burying the aid inside an emergency spending bill so that its members won’t have to be held accountable.

Ducking a decision on the larger military conflict may not be surprising for a Congress that has spent years avoiding big votes, but it’s a pretty shameful abdication of one of the legislature’s most profound obligations as the branch of government that declares war.

As most lawmakers scurry away, one of the House’s most thoughtful members, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, is conducting a lonely and undoubtedly futile attempt to persuade them to have a debate about military action.

“In matters of war, Congress is not some suitor that must be asked by the President to dance,” he wrote in an essay in Time, published yesterday. “Requested or not, Congress must exercise its responsibility to decide whether to send the nation’s sons and daughters to war. We should not go to war — let alone adjourn — without a vote.”

This week, Mr. Schiff introduced a vehicle for that vote, which provides a foundation for a necessary debate. It would put sharp limits on the new war and hold President Obama to his promises on its scope. The need for limits was made clear by the irresponsible remarks of Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified yesterday that he felt free to recommend direct involvement of American troops if the circumstances warranted it.

Mr. Schiff’s bill would authorize military force, but only against the Islamic State, preventing the creeping expansion to other “associated forces” that made the 2001 military authorization against Al Qaeda a convenient catchall for the Bush and Obama administrations. (The White House is now using it as a dubious justification for the current round of strikes.)

It limits the war to Iraq and Syria, preventing a geographic expansion.

The authorization would expire 18 months after being enacted, preventing the endless slogs the country has endured in Afghanistan and previously Iraq. If the war isn’t over by then, the president will have to come back to Congress to explain why, and justify an extension.

There is at least one potential problem: While the bill appears to prevent the deployment of ground forces in combat, it creates a loophole that the administration could exploit by allowing in trainers, advisers, intelligence officers or special operations forces. These exceptions could result in quite a few boots on Iraqi and Syrian soil.

On the other hand, one of the best things about the bill is that it would repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force that was passed in 2002 to begin the Iraq War, which should no longer be on the books. And it would terminate in 18 months the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaeda that was passed after the 9/11 attacks, making good on Mr. Obama’s promise to end that endless war.

Congress will be gone for nearly two months while this war begins to build. Leaders have said there may be a debate on a military authorization in the lame duck session that begins the day after Veterans Day. If Republicans gain control of the Senate in the midterm elections, they may refuse to have a debate on anything of substance until they take the reins in January.

The war has started, and the time for Congress to assert its responsibilities and have a real debate is now.

To read the full article, please click here.


By:  David Firestone
Source: New York Times