Jonathan Bernstein chides Congress for its inaction on an authorization for the war on ISIS, which is now in its ninth month:
Still, even a broad authorization for the war on Islamic State would be better for congressional influence than no authorization at all. Republicans and Democrats should find a way to bridge their differences on this.
Since the administration made it clear from the start that it will wage its war regardless of what Congress does or doesn’t do, I’m not sure what “influence” Congress gains by passing what amounts to little more than a rubber stamp at this point. The president’s position is that Congress is free to endorse his war, but he doesn’t think he needs their endorsement and he will presumably ignore their disapproval in the extremely unlikely event that they mustered the energy to express it. As long as the original 2001 authorization remains in force, that is what Obama and his officials will cite, and there are very few members that are prepared to revise or repeal that authorization.
Under those circumstances, and given that most members of Congress don’t want to “own” part of any war if they don’t have to, what incentive do members of Congress have to go on record as part of a farcical and redundant process? This is the second war Obama has started without Congressional approval, and both times he has all but dared Congress to do something about it one way or the other. Both times they have declined the challenge, because most of them don’t disagree with the policy, they don’t care about their constitutional responsibilities, and they have no problem permitting the president to launch wars as he pleases. It would be preferable for members of Congress to go on record with their positions, if only for the possibility of being able to pin them down later and hold them accountable at the next election, but no one should pretend that this has anything to do with reviving Congress’ role in matters of war. Passing an authorization now would just reconfirm how deferential and useless Congress has become on these issues.
The authorization “debate” over the last few months has never been a serious one over whether U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria regarding ISIS makes sense or whether it advances any American interests. There has never been the slightest chance that an authorization resolution would be voted down, yet voting down such a resolution would be the only way to start to challenge illegal presidential war-making. Instead, the “debate” has centered on how open-ended and unlimited the war is to be. It would be better to pass a narrowly-worded resolution that limits the war to Iraq and Syria than to have one that endorses a new theoretically global campaign, but all of that is somewhat academic since the administration has already shown that it will reinterpret and abuse existing authorizations however it sees fit to justify what it does. A Congressional authorization of the war on ISIS at this point would be nothing more than an attempt to legitimize an illegal war long after it began.