Six months after President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in the Middle East, Congress hasn’t done any actual work on the subject. On the contrary, there’s been an ongoing rhetorical tug of war between the White House and lawmakers as to who should write a resolution authorizing the mission that began in August.
Yesterday, President Obama agreed to stop the pointless back and forth, presenting a resolution to Congress, per lawmakers’ request.
President Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for new war powers to go after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the brutal terror group that has beheaded American journalists and aid workers and has menaced the Middle East. The president’s request would replace the 2002 legislation that authorized the Iraq War but leaves in place a very broadly worded resolution passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.“This is a difficult mission, and it will remain difficult for some time,” Obama said at the White House, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry. But “ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose,” Obama added, using an alternative acronym for the terror group.
In terms of the substance of the proposal, Rachel’s segment last night is well worth your time, and pay particular attention to the detail about Obama putting an expiration date on the resolution – something that didn’t happen in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Some other worthwhile analyses are available from Bruce Ackerman and Greg Sargent.
But in terms of the politics of the AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force), the president’s language was not well received on Capitol Hill – many Democrats said the resolution, as written, is too broad and includes too few restrictions, while most Republicans said it’s too narrow and includes too many restrictions. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), demonstrating his trademark wit, called the proposed language “utterly stupid.”
The dynamic has annoying familiarity to it:
1. Congress demanded to President Obama, “Send us a resolution!”
2. President Obama responded, “Fine, here’s proposed language.”
3. Congress then declared, “We don’t like this resolution!”
Perhaps now would be a good time to remind lawmakers that they could have – at some point over the last six months – worked on writing their own language to consider. Perhaps “legislators writing legislative language” would have been too obvious.
My personal favorite was the reaction from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also considering a White House bid, said Obama’s war proposal need only be one sentence. “I would say there is a pretty simple authorization he could ask for, and it would read one sentence. And that is: ‘We authorize the President to defeat and destroy ISIL, period.’ And that’s, I think, what we need to do,” Rubio said Wednesday in a speech on the Senate floor.
It’s a classic post-policy approach to a national-security challenge: don’t bother Rubio with policy details; he just wants the White House to go after the bad guys. A “one-sentence” resolution would effectively tell the president – and future presidents – that he or she has limitless power to do practically anything, practically anywhere, in pursuit of ISIS militants forevermore.
So what happens now? Congress will presumably have some kind of debate about how best to replace the language in the White House’s AUMF with something lawmakers like better – a process that will probably go nowhere in a Congress that fails at even routine tasks.
But the larger question is what happens if lawmakers fail to approve any kind of force resolution. Will Obama’s military offensive continue indefinitely without congressional approval?