A follow-up to yesterday’s post and a sneak preview of today’s huddle with the big four in the Oval Office. I said this before but it bears repeating: Obama’s creeping authoritarianism isn’t happening in a vacuum. In matters of war, he’s not so much seizing power as accepting what’s being willingly handed to him. By both parties.
“The White House is aware there really is no appetite for a vote,” said one senior congressional aide to the LA Times. As a summation of the rancid cynicism behind this, it’s hard to beat what Jack Kingston said:
Democratic leaders in the Senate and Republican leaders in the House want to avoid a public vote to authorize force, fearing the unknown political consequences eight weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 4.
“A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,’ ” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. “It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”
What’s important is keeping Congress as politically comfortable as possible, and the less power they retain, the easier that becomes. Some members justify their deference to O in terms of the assets he plans to use: Bernie Sanders told the NYT he’s okay with letting Obama bomb who he wants as long as ground troops aren’t sent in, the key distinction being … I don’t know. I guess the president has inherent authority to put airmen’s lives at risk but not infantry’s? Does that make any sense?
Other members of Congress take the Peter King line that it’s best to avoid the legislature altogether just in case they put up a fight. War’s too important to give the people’s representatives a chance to stop it:
The Daily Beast asked Graham if the absence of a vote reflected congressional acquiescence to the president’s will on war strategy. A vote would be nice, he said, but bringing the issue to Congress could mean all sorts of measures that blunt the president’s response.
“What if [Obama] comes here and [Congress] can’t pass it? That would be a disaster. And what if you put so many conditions on it that it makes any military operations ineffective? That’s what I worry about,” the senator said. “I think the president has an abundant amount of authority to conduct operations. It would be good to have Congress on board…if Congress doesn’t like what he’s doing, we can cut the money off.”
They’re not going to cut the money off once men are in harm’s way. And they’re certainly not going to vote on an AUMF later, as Sanders’s airstrikes-yes-infantry-no formulation seems to imagine. Once they’ve allowed Obama to wage war unilaterally from the air, it’s the easiest thing in the world to let him wage war unilaterally on the ground too. If anything, Congress will be even more eager to have its fingerprints off of ground operations. Like Kingston says, if things go well, Congress can claim that they supported Obama morally; if things go bad, they can wash their hands of the whole thing and pronounce it “Obama’s war.” (That’s what Democrats did to Dubya, despite Bush having gotten an AUMF with plenty of Democratic support.) Frankly, given all of that, I’m curious to know what today’s alleged strategy session with Boehner, McConnell, Reid, and Pelosi is all about. Presumably Obama’s going to brief them on what he has planned in the near term for ISIS, then he’s going to ask them if they think an AUMF will pass. They’re going to tell him sure, probably, although there are no guarantees in life. At which point they’ll mutually agree to scrap the whole thing. In fact, Bob Corker claims one of his sources on the Hill told him that Obama has already decided not to submit a request for authorization from Congress. Today’s White House meeting is basically window dressing, to make the public believe that he kinda sorta cares what their elected leaders think.
And by the way, the war is already widening. Per Gabe Malor, Obama’s expanding U.S. airstrikes in Iraq from a humanitarian operation aimed at protecting Kurds and Yazidis to a strategic operation aimed at cutting ISIS’s supply lines so that the Iraqi army can regain some ground. Do you want your representatives to weigh in on that? Why bother?