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The Farcical Debate Over an Authorization for the War on ISIS

It’s no surprise that Congress wants to keep ducking [1] its responsibilities to debate and vote on war. Considering the argument that the administration has been making, it’s easy to understand why they don’t want to do anything:

In an address from the Oval Office on Sunday night, President Obama again asked Congress to officially authorize the use of military force abroad. While White House officials have repeatedly said he does not need that authorization, which was previously granted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the administration is seeking to project a united front with Congress against the terrorist threat [bold mine-DL].

In other words, Obama will continue the war in Iraq and Syria regardless of what Congress does, and he will keep pretending that he has legal authority to do this even if they never vote on it. The only reason he is even bothering to ask Congress for a new authorization vote is to make a political statement about support for the intervention. Under these circumstances, the debate would be a farce. There would be no danger that the vote might come out “wrong,” and so the debate would be even more heavily skewed in favor of war than it usually is. Congress would be participating in the process with the understanding that its involvement is purely for show, and so I doubt most members would take the debate seriously.

Oddly enough, one reason that many members of Congress don’t want to vote on a resolution is that they are worried about what voting down a new authorization might represent:

Members of both parties, especially the Republicans who control Congress, fear that a high-profile debate followed by a failed vote to authorize force would be a disastrous public display of division, perhaps emboldening enemies abroad. Lawmakers and Mr. Obama were embarrassed in 2013 when Congress did not authorize airstrikes against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Members of Congress wouldn’t have to worry about this if they had done their jobs sixteen months ago and had a proper vote one way or the other at the start of the war. This is a reminder of how absurd the debate over a new AUMF has been all along. No matter what Congress does on a new authorization, the war is going to continue. Any debate is going to have a predetermined outcome: endorsing the war that has already been going on for over a year. That makes engaging in the debate a waste of everyone’s time, and it confirms Congress as a belated rubber stamp for whatever war the president wants to start on his own.

When Obama went to Congress in 2013 to ask for an authorization to attack Syria, there were a lot of misguided arguments that Obama was reviving Congress’ role in starting wars. Since Obama wrongly claimed to have the authority to attack Syria without Congress’ approval, this made no sense at the time, and it still makes no sense. As we can see, the real effect of seeking and failing to obtain Congressional approval two years ago has been to discourage any Congressional involvement in decisions about war. Then as now, the president is interested in Congressional input only if it endorses what he already wanted to do or what he has been doing, and otherwise he would be happy for them to remain idle. For their part, most members of Congress are content to be idle, and the latest illegal war continues for as long as the president wants.

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6 Comments To "The Farcical Debate Over an Authorization for the War on ISIS"

#1 Comment By Alan Vanneman On December 10, 2015 @ 9:50 am

“most members of Congress are content to be idle”? I’d say that virtually all members of Congress are absolutely determined to be idle when it comes to taking any responsibility for America’s wars.

#2 Comment By SteveM On December 10, 2015 @ 10:07 am

First of all, this is a solid if disheartening assessment by Daniel Larison.

And re: “As we can see, the real effect of seeking and failing to obtain Congressional approval two years ago has been to discourage any Congressional involvement in decisions about war.”

Related to that, is a comment I made previously. I.e., ISIS has no organic capabilities to manufacture materiel or resupply its forces. They obviously have had supply chains that connect to external sources from the outset. So where are the congressional intelligence committee hearings on the sources of ISIS supply? Who is delivering what to them? What regional countries are enablers of the supply nodes and the conduits of materials back to ISIS?

Well the fact is that the Congress would rather not know. Because pulling on those threads would undoubtedly surface links to “our friends” in the region calling into question the whole enchilada of U.S. involvement. The Russian evidence of Turkish collaboration with the jihadists may be legitimate. But of course that means Putin may be correct, which the hacks in Washington could never acknowledge because hating on Putin is more important.

The entire thing is a dystopian mess being hoisted on the backs of the American taxpayers. Congress, (and that narcissistic mediocrity in the Oval Office) haven’t the guts to represent and protect the people that voted them into office. Pathetic…

P.S. where is the new Speaker in all of this?

P.P.S. I wish CATO or somebody would monetize this debacle and put the waste in economic terms that Americans can understand.

#3 Comment By CharleyCarp On December 10, 2015 @ 10:41 am

If Congress wanted to stop this it could do so. (Seen any former GTMO prisoners in the US lately?) Fact is, they not only don’t want the responsibility of saying yes or no, they want at least this much, if not more effort expended on bombing IS.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 10, 2015 @ 10:41 am

Not only that, but whatever Congress voted on, wouldn’t have to at all conform to what the Caesar-like free ranging unitary executive would actually do with it, the disconnect from accountability is so great. Anything other than a complete turndown is hands-off let ‘er rip.

#5 Comment By David On December 10, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

If our representatives had any guts, they would do two things. First, they would adopt a “sense of the Congress” resolution stating that the current AUMF does not authorize military action in Syria. That would put Obama on notice that, in Congress’s view, he is not free to take military action in Syria without further authorization. Sure, he could disregard the resolution, but doing so would raise Constitutional issues, since the Constitution clearly gives Congress the sole authority to declare war. Second, they would schedule a debate on the use of military force in Syria and then vote on a proposed authorization (and let the chips fall where they may). But all this is too straightforward and legal for our spineless wonders in Congress. One might say the Obama and Congress are birds of a feather who deserve each other.

#6 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 12, 2015 @ 12:28 pm

“Members of Congress wouldn’t have to worry about this if they had done their jobs sixteen months ago and had a proper vote one way or the other at the start of the war. No matter what Congress does on a new authorization, the war is going to continue.”

No matter what the public wants either. If public opinion can be manufactured for support, a PR victory, whatever the inevitable outcome of the war itself. If not, as when public opinion prevented authorization, despite the false flag chemical provocation and Putin’s deal brokering, it’s continued covertly by CIA, the President’s private military force. If something like a lone wolf terrorist attack occurs, then roll that into a provocation for war. That’s why the gun control meme quickly morphed into an expansion and repurposing of the unaccountable secret watch list – all of a piece with a transition from republic to elected figurehead Caesarism.