President Barack Obama is right to ask Congress for formal authorization to wage war against the Islamic State.
Now, it’s up to Congress to do its constitutional duty and seek answers to the many questions Americans have about the U.S. military getting deeper in the quagmire that is Iraq and Syria. Unfortunately, the president did not offer much in the way of details in his proposal.
It would be better yet for the new Republican-controlled Congress to proceed with a minimum of partisan sniping and hold a “thoughtful and dignified debate,” as the president asked in a nationally televised statement Wednesday after sending the legislation to Capitol Hill.
While the battle with Islamic State militants has been underway for months, Obama said the resolution would “show our troops and the world that Americans are united in this mission.” Obama highlighted the coalition of Arab nations and Western allies at our side and local soldiers bearing the brunt of ground combat.
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This acknowledged that the U.S. is taking the lead even if we are not supplying the bulk of ground forces. His three-page draft is deliberately vague on that very critical issue – deploying ground forces. The resolution rules out “enduring offensive combat operations” – the kinds of long-term, large-scale operations like those in Iraq, where Obama ended the war in 2011, and in Afghanistan, where he ended the combat mission in December.
“The United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East,” Obama said.
That said, he asks for the flexibility to use ground troops in limited circumstances – special operations against Islamic State leaders, rescuing downed pilots, collecting intelligence.
Some Republican hawks say ground forces are necessary to defeat the Islamic State. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, complained it was “bizarre” for Obama to ask lawmakers to limit his own powers as commander in chief.
Many Democrats, however, adamantly oppose more ground forces. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said “there is no appetite for any boots on the ground, except in limited circumstances.”
Regardless, if there is any appetite for even a semblance of stability in the region, we must act to blunt the Islamic State’s threat to our allies and our national security. Its brutality toward civilians and hostages knows no bounds. At the same time, Islamic State is inspiring terrorist attacks in Europe. Undoubtedly, it wants to strike America as well.
Obama’s resolution would be the first vote under the War Powers Act since then-President George W. Bush won authorization to invade Iraq in 2002. Obama wants to repeal that authorization, but keep the one passed after the 2001 terror attacks that he has used in his war on terror, ordering drone strikes against suspected terrorists and, more recently, airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and 3,000 military “advisers” back into Iraq.
This authorization would be in place for three years – extending into his successor’s term.
“I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war,” Obama said.
He is right. But when war is taking place, and our interests are threatened, we must act.