When you manage to find a Democrat and a Republican who agree on anything these days it’s probably newsworthy. And given the fact that some cruise missiles are probably going to be zooming across the sky toward Syria by the end of the week, perhaps talk of a new war powers resolution could be in order. That’s an idea that Senator Tim Kaine has been pitching since arriving in the upper chamber (to no avail), but now he’s got Bob Corker onboard and willing to at least have the idea put forward in committee for discussion. (WaPo)
By Tuesday morning, however, Kaine emerged from a meeting with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, more optimistic than ever that at least one committee would take a responsible action on matters of war and peace.
“We’re close. There’s one item that we’re still working out, but we feel good. We’ve made some real progress,” Kaine said in a midday interview.
Most important is that Corker and Kaine are in agreement over the biggest stumbling block that has bogged down previous talks, reaching a compromise on how long the new war resolution would last.
Corker, who declined to detail the pending legislation, credited Kaine with being “the driving force on the Democratic side” of the war debate. The legislation will only serve as a replacement to the existing 2001 AUMF, which deals with terrorist groups and nonstate actors. It will not address possible missile strikes against the Syrian government for an alleged gas attack on citizens this month.
The idea of some entirely new definition of presidential war powers and either expanded or reduced freedom to act was obviously not going to be happening. But it does sound as if they might be able to craft a replacement for the 2001 AUMF which three consecutive presidents have been operating under for the past seventeen years or so. And that’s not a terrible idea when you consider how much the global battlefield has changed in that time. Back when George W. Bush sought those powers, the only real enemy was a set of disparate terrorist forces which only had true strongholds in a few locations. And that was primarily al Qaeda and a few of their offshoots.
Now the danger, along with the potential need for rapid military action, has shifted. ISIS wasn’t really more than a vague concept in 2001. And while Syria was already a mess even then, it was nothing like what we’re seeing now. There’s no telling where trouble may crop up next. But the Democrats and the Republicans tend to want very different things when it comes to any new war powers. The left would like to have strict time limits placed on any such resolution and clearly defined geographical areas where an attack is authorized. Conservatives generally prefer to give our military leadership more of a free hand in identifying threats and advising the President as to where and when to act.
But if Congress has any interest in honoring the oaths that they took, they need to remember that it’s the legislative branch which is granted the power to declare war under the Constitution. If they tended to be more of one mind and were able to respond on a moment’s notice they wouldn’t need to worry about the President pulling the trigger without consulting them. Perhaps a new AUMF would be a step in the right direction toward at least partially reclaiming that responsibility.