The U.S. mission against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria continues to intensify, with reports over the weekend of an airstrike hitting a gathering of ISIS leaders. Iraqi officials believe the strike killed a number of top militants.
The news came just days after President Obama authorized “the deployment of up to 1,500 additional troops to help train, advise and assist Iraqi government and Kurdish peshmerga forces in their fight” against ISIS, nearly doubling the U.S. military presence in the country.
It’s against this backdrop that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argues today that the military offensive is “illegal” and it’s up to the legislative branch to act (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
I believe the president must come to Congress to begin a war. I also believe the War Powers Act is misunderstood; President Obama acted without true constitutional authority even before the 90 days expired, since we were not under attack at that time.But in either case, this war is now illegal. It must be declared and made valid, or it must be ended.Congress has a duty to act, one way or the other…. Taking military action against ISIS is justified. The president acting without Congress is not.
To be sure, that’s not a bad argument. On the contrary, Paul’s position is very much in line with a sensible approach to national security and the use of military force abroad. When Obama announced a larger deployment, it was exactly the sort of development that cries out for congressional oversight – which Congress has been unwilling to consider even as the military confrontation has grown more serious.
But the problem for Rand Paul emerges when we look at the trajectory of the senator’s arguments on the issue.
Benjy Sarlin published this report two months ago.
After expressing reluctance to intervene against ISIS over the summer, Sen. Rand Paul abruptly shifted gears on Thursday and announced that he supports military action to eliminate the Islamist group. […]Paul’s hawkish turn comes after months of hedging and skeptical comments regarding U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria. Yet Paul boasted on Thursday that as president he would have committed to a grand plan to eliminate ISIS earlier and more effectively than President Obama.
More so than any other national politician, Rand Paul has been all over the place. The Kentucky Republican said in June about the ISIS threat, “What’s going on now, I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution.”
Then he changed course, saying Obama’s foreign policy “has allowed radical jihadists to proliferate.”
In mid-August, after U.S. airstrikes were underway, Paul said he had “mixed feelings” about the mission. Now he’s replaced that ambiguity with certainty about the mission’s illegality.
Remember, Obama’s military offensive against ISIS targets began over three months ago, and during part of that time, the junior senator from Kentucky was outraged that Obama’s approach was too cautious.
Over three months later, Paul has suddenly discovered his belief that the airstrikes are illegal and the mission requires congressional approval. If the senator supports military action against ISIS, and believes lawmakers’ authorization is necessary, why didn’t Paul sponsor a resolution endorsing the use of force?
I’ll look forward to the explanation.