Nearly three months since President Obama finally asked Congress for an authorization of use military force against ISIS and nearly nine months since he first ordered airstrikes against the group, Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reports that the authorization is on the verge of dying a quiet death in Congress.
What makes this remarkable—beyond the amount of time the U.S. has been conducting airstrikes without any explicit authorization—is that it’s happening at the same time Congress is engaged in an intense and highly publicized debate over its right to approve any nuclear deal with Iran. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Republican members of Congress are far more concerned with limiting the president’s authority to conduct diplomacy than they are with his ability to wage war against whomever he wants, for however long he wants.
Or at least, Republicans seem to have little interest in congressional oversight on foreign policy when there aren’t opportunities to oppose Obama. As DeYoung notes, the Authorization for Use of Military Force debate is a strange one: Liberal Democrats think the authorization that the president submitted last February is too broad, including no geographical limits on where the U.S. can strike ISIS. Hawkish Republicans think it’s too restrictive since it doesn’t authorize the deployment of “boots on the ground.” Across the board, there’s general support for airstrikes but little enthusiasm for Congress taking ownership of another long, difficult war. The president’s authorization is now essentially dead, and Congress doesn’t appear in a hurry to debate any alternatives.
In the meantime, the U.S. will continue to conduct airstrikes against ISIS using the flimsy legal authority of an authorization passed in the wake of 9/11, when the group didn’t even exist. And with extremists in countries including Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen pledging allegiance to ISIS, the administration and its allies are now debating expanding the campaign beyond Iraq and Syria.
Obama deserves some blame for this situation. By waiting for months to ask for an authorization and arguing that he has the legal authority to continue airstrikes even without it, he’s seriously lowered the stakes of this debate. But Congress shouldn’t have let him. The U.S. Constitution, as subsequently interpreted by the Supreme Court, gives the president wide latitude to conduct negotiations on behalf of the United States without congressional input. The president’s ability to order the use military force, however, is meant to be much more limited. The current Congress seems to have it backward.