Home/Daniel Larison/A Very Belated Congressional Debate on the ISIS War

A Very Belated Congressional Debate on the ISIS War

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

The Postchides Congress and the administration for their tardiness in producing an AUMF for the war against ISIS:

Mr. Kaine and the outgoing Foreign Relations chair, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), at least made a serious effort to forge a bill and get it passed. That’s more than can be said for the White House, which despite saying that it wanted congressional authorization declined to submit its own legislation [bold mine-DL].

The fact that the administration hasn’t provided its own resolution to Congress should remind us how little it values Congressional approval and Congress’ role in the decision to go to war. Voting to authorize the war at this point amounts to little more than rubber-stamping a policy that will continue regardless of how anyone votes. Obama and his officials falsely claim that they don’t need Congressional authorization for their war, and there are very few in Congress that would bother to dispute that claim. An administration that is prepared to distort or simply ignore the terms of previous AUMFs is not going to be bound by the restrictions in a new one, and the only other way for Congress to rein in the executive–cutting off funding–will never be tried for fear of being accused of undermining the military.

Maybe the administration would like Congress to vote for authorization to give the war some additional political cover, but it clearly isn’t that important to them. The administration is leaving Congress to its own devices on this because the White House doesn’t care whether it ever gets a new AUMF or not. The U.S. has been waging war illegally since August, and the administration seems quite content to continue doing so indefinitely. As ever, Congress is only too happy to oblige in letting the executive do whatever it wants. Both branches are doing their best “to dodge their legal and political duty,” and both will keep getting away with it until one of them holds the other accountable.

It would be better if Congress debated and voted on a resolution instead of shirking their responsibilities, but it’s important to understand that the entire process will be taking place as an after-thought. A ‘yes’ vote on a new AUMF will confirm that presidents can start and wage wars on their own authority and can then expect Congress to fall in line and endorse whatever they have decided to do. In the end, a debate on the war that has no chance of stopping the war will be an empty ritual that underscores how irrelevant Congress has become in matters of war and peace.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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