ISIL is busy building a capital in Syria while Obama dithers

Last month, AFP reported that the Islamic State had established a marriage bureau to help jihadists find brides. It was a troubling sign that ISIL and its self-proclaimed caliphate believed it would be around for a while. Since then, the group has been digging in:

In the Syrian city of Raqqah on the banks of the Euphrates River, Islamic State militants are busy building a capital fit for their followers.

Human rights observers say they have stoned women to death for adultery, while residents report that religious textbooks have been imported for schools and the market flooded with black cloaks for girls as young as 6 years old. Even as it wages war on multiple fronts, the group has had time to focus on the details, recruit thousands into its forces and celebrate victories by parading the heads of its enemies.

It sounds ghastly. According to one resident, via Bloomberg News, accused thieves have their hands cut off, which is a punishment right out of the Middle Ages. So far, it seems beyond the Syrian government’s ability to stop. The NY Times reports that part of ISIL’s success is coming from its professionalism, which it’s getting from middle-aged former officers in Saddam Hussein’s military. Many of these officers were banned from participating in Iraq’s post-war government, the ones that weren’t simply imprisoned, I mean.  Now they’re getting revenge.

Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes against ISIL are only occurring in Iraq. President Obama has not yet announced what he wants to do about ISIL in Syria, but it’s already leading to grumbles from Congress. If this all seems vaguely familiar, that’s because last year at about this time, Obama proposed airstrikes in Syriaonly against the Syrian government rather than rebel groups. He was firmly rebuffed by most of the Democrats and the Republicans and with little public support, he didn’t press the issue.

Here we are again, only given recent developments, I think he’d receive much broader acceptance for military action—if only he would ask for it. At this point, the American public probably won’t make the distinction between airstrikes in ISIL-controlled Iraq and airstrikes in ISIL-controlled Syria. Legally, however, Obama is stretching his authority to commit airstrikes in either country. The 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq was explicitly directed at toppling Saddam Hussein and his supporters. The 2001 AUMF was directed at Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups, which have rejected ISIL. Which means, if we really want to make a military confrontation with ISIL kosher, Congress needs to pass a new AUMF. Will Nobel Peace Prize awardee Obama have the stones to ask Congress for a war authorization? I’m not holding my breath, which means you might as well get used to thinking of Raqqah as the ISIL capital city.

What do you think? Should the U.S. be declaring war on ISIL, even a limited war of airstrikes?

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