We may finally have a rare point of consensus between Barack Obama and Congressional leadership — and it’s an odd but fitting point. The President gathered the leadership of both chambers and both parties to the Oval Office to brief them on his thinking about US options in Iraq, but not to seek their approval for any action. Obama told them that he’s authorized to take action based on previous Congressional authorizations as well as the inherent powers of the executive branch under Article II, and at least for now it appears that Obama was convincing:
Militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reportedly seized control Wednesday of Iraq’s largest domestic oil refinery, prompting a bloody showdown with Iraqi security forces that underscored the instability. The refinery represents more than a quarter of Iraq’s domestic refining capability, and could prompt fuel and power shortages across the country.
With that violence as the backdrop, Democratic leaders offered support for Obama to use a 2002 law authorizing President George W. Bush to take action in Iraq as the legal authority for new strikes.
“I do not believe the President needs any further legislative authority to pursue the particular options for increased security assistance discussed today,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement released after the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has previously backed that position.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate notably did not object to that interpretation, and Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking GOP leader, offered public support. …
[A] source familiar with the discussion said some of the leaders present “suggested the president already has existing authorities to take additional action without congress[ional] authorization.”
That’s quite a turnaround, and not just for Pelosi and Reid. Democrats have wanted to kill the 2002 AUMF related to Iraq, and perhaps even amend the 2001 AUMF for al-Qaeda passed after 9/11 in order to limit the reach of the executive branch. Obama declared the war in Iraq over, which had some questioning whether any more action would have any legal basis. Suddenly, that AUMF is looking pretty good now that it’s become obvious to all that the war in Iraq wasn’t over at all.
Still, it’s the right decision by both Republicans and Democrats. The War Powers Act grants the President a lot of leeway even without the AUMF for at least a short period of time, and in this case we’d be deploying force (of some kind) on behalf of an ally that’s clearly ready to fall without some assistance. Fighting that would have a weak legal basis and politically hypocritical after the avalanche of GOP criticism on how Obama handled the withdrawal in 2011. Since Congress has not repealed the Iraq AUMF in the last three years, and since ISIS arguably falls under the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda and its affiliates, suddenly demanding a reauthorization looks bad in both ways, and for no good purpose other than knee-jerk opposition.
This is still a bit dangerous for Obama. He went alone on Libya and it turned into a disaster that ended up entirely on his shoulders. He almost did the same thing in Syria, and that combined with the earlier snub of Congress on Libya doomed his request to intervene against Bashar al-Assad. Asking for a vote might produce the same resistance, but this is a very different situation. The proposed 2013 Syria intervention was an attack on a government we’d long recognized, and as late as 2011 described as reformist. This would be an attack on a blatantly murderous terrorist network related to the same one that conducted 9/11 on behalf of a friendly government. There may still be grumblings about a “lack of strategy,” but Congress would almost certainly salute the Commander in Chief on this request. And that would protect Obama later in case the decision ended up going badly.
Or, it would provide some political cover. As Instapundit reminded us last night, some Democrats have very short memories when it comes to Iraq:
I wonder if Biden has amnesia about this, too?