This past week, the president sent to Congress, a draft of what could become a bill authorizing his use of military force to combat the growing threat of ISIS. The language in the former was tailored to establish what might be called a “zone” of common ground. Therein, it would be hoped that our legislators could find their way to an agreement as to what Obama could/could not do.
Such a coming together will certainly be a difficult. There are members of Congress (almost all Democrats) who fear that given too much latitude, the president or his successor, will get us bogged down in an expansive, costly and prolonged war. In sharp contrast, there’s a large group, mainly Republicans, who want a robust authorization. Simply put, this joins a debate between doves and hawks.
In the opposing positions staked out by these two groups, you have ironies piled on ironies. Consider: It’s the Democrats who distrust the president, while it’s the Republicans who are willing to give Obama broad powers. The former is strikingly odd given that Obama has been diligent in getting us out of wars and who has been quite restrained in the use of our military. Just as peculiar is Republicans’ willingness to cede more authority to the president when they have railed so frequently about his abuse of it in the form of issuing multiple Executive Orders.
Want still more ironies? In sending his proposal to Congress, Obama is asking for the authority to do something that he already undertook about six months ago with his bombing of ISIS targets. And he did this under an authorization bill passed back in 2001 (1); an authorization he believes is still in force since it has never been repealed or replaced by more contemporary legislation.
Once you work your way through this minefield of ironies, one must consider what message any new bill would send to the enemy. For example, should the new legislation set a time-limit on how long we will wage war and/or with what sort of commitment of our military? Suppose we agree to fight for just three years and only in a subordinate role to local forces like the Kurdish Peshmerga? Would knowing that not embolden ISIS to plan a campaign of attrition, knowing they can outlast our involvement and then take their chances against whatever opposition is at hand?
Long ago, the US Senate gained the reputation as “the world’s greatest deliberative body”. In debating, and compromising to find common ground, the present senate has a chance to again earn that accolade. That is going to be an extraordinary challenge given the white-hot nature of today’s partisan politics.
But, they had better find a way because it’s our national security that’s at stake and that’s neither a Democrat nor Republican issue. IT’S AN AMERICAN ONE !!!
1. The 2001 authorization was so broad that it provided then-president G.W. Bush with the freedom to do pretty much as he pleased which, it turned out, was to invade Iraq.