Prominent Democratic and Republican lawmakers are coming out in droves demanding that the president seek congressional authorization for his new war against a new foe in a new theater. This led administration members yesterday to implausibly assert that, not only is the war on ISIS not a “war,” but it is merely a continuation of the counter-terror operations in which America has been engaged in since 2001 (a campaign formerly known as the “War on Terror”).
If this seems like wobbly ground for the White House, it is. The members of The New York Times editorial board, like many on the far-left, are furious over the president’s determination to go to war again in the Middle East, much less without the consent of Congress. Before castigating Obama for his extra-constitutional prosecution of a new war abroad, however, The Times indulges in a natural instinct to shift the blame for the president’s missteps onto Congress.
“As the Pentagon gears up to expand its fight against ISIS, a fundamentalist Sunni militant group that controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, Congress appears perfectly willing to abdicate one of this most consequential roles: the authority to declare war,” The Times editorial begins. “The cowardice in Congress, never to be estimated, is outrageous.”
“By avoiding responsibility, they allow President Obama free rein to set a dangerous precedent that will last well past this particular military campaign,” The Times editorial board observed.
This is absolutely correct, it is a dangerous precedent; but it is not Congress alone which is setting it. Many bipartisan and influential members of the legislative branch have demanded the opportunity to vote on a resolution. Republicans in the House and the Senate have introduced language authorizing a new campaign against ISIS.
The leadership in the House and the Senate appears disinclined to hold contentious votes on a new authorization of force but, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) accurately observed, it is not the traditional role of Congress to outline the mission which they are sanctioning. Customarily, the commander-in-chief submits language to Congress that defines the scope of the mission before America’s military planners. If it were Congress’s role to craft war plans as well as to approve of them, the United States would be a far less secure place.
It does not, however, take much time for The Times editorial board members to get the venting at Congress out of their systems before they come to the resigned conclusion that it is Obama who is corrupting the wartime role of an American president.
The Times rips the White House for claiming that the 2001 authorization for war against al-Qaeda suffices as authorization to go after ISIS. The board excoriated Obama for his decision to bypass Congress ahead of the mission to execute strikes in Libya in 2011, over the advice of both the Justice Department and the Pentagon. They claim Obama was really just “lucky” to find a diplomatic alternative to strikes against Syria in 2013, of which he demanded Congress approve even though Congress appeared inclined to do just the opposite.
“Congress should weigh in – and soon,” The Times advises. “Any such document should not leave this president or his successor the ability to get the United States into wars without the people’s consent.”
They really let Obama off easy. The president has, more so than any of his predecessors, treated the constitutional provisions which require that Congress sanction the use of force as an obstacle to be avoided or ignored. When Obama wants to execute military action abroad, he determines he does not need Congress to approve of it. Only when he wants to be excused from having to make good on his promises, as was the case one year ago in Syria, does he seek congressional authorization with the understanding that it will not be forthcoming.
Obama does not have a working relationship with Congress, he cannot cajole or convince the people’s representatives. Only the fates and external events shape opinions on the Hill today – Obama is a nonentity. America’s present rudderless condition is supremely dangerous for the nation and the world.
The Times is correct; it is a dangerous precedent if Obama decides to engage in a years-long war in two sovereign nations without legal authorization. It is not Congress alone which is to blame for this condition. The President of the United States does not believe he needs to submit to a check from the most responsive branch of the federal government. That is a precedent which is far more dangerous than that which would be set by the execution of airstrikes in Syria.