Home/Daniel Larison/The War Against ISIS and the “Constitutionally Fastidious” Obama

The War Against ISIS and the “Constitutionally Fastidious” Obama

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George Will starts off his column about a “potential fresh start for foreign policy” in a strange way:

Barack Obama’s coming request for Congress to “right-size and update” the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against terrorism will be constitutionally fastidious [bold mine-DL] and will catalyze a debate that will illuminate Republican fissures.

The upcoming AUMF debate may illuminate divisions in both parties, but the president’s request is anything but “constitutionally fastidious.” In fact, Obama has done more than most previous presidents to ignore and evade the requirements of the Constitution and U.S. law with respect to ordering military action overseas. This case is no different. If the administration expected that the war would be over in a few months, it would presumably have revived its nonsensical arguments from the Libyan war or would have asserted that the president’s inherent powers allowed him to wage the war. Presidents have been able to get away with ignoring Congress while waging illegal wars in the past (e.g., Kosovo, Libya), but that has usually worked only as long as those wars were concluded in months rather than years. Since the war against ISIS is expected to last several years at least, Obama and his advisers probably realized that they might not be able to get away with the same thing indefinitely.

Since the administration doesn’t believe a new resolution is necessary, it would be more accurate to say that the request for one is a piece of belated lip service to Congress’ role in the process that is supposed to distract us from the president’s claim that he already has the authority to wage the war. It is an exercise in maintaining the pretense that the law is being followed after the law has already been blatantly broken for the past several months. Robert Golan-Vilella described the choice before Congress very well:

When it comes to what the Pentagon is calling Operation Inherent Resolve, the only real choice members of Congress have is between a war they’ve voted for and a war they haven’t.

If that’s a “fresh start” for our foreign policy debate, I wonder what stale continuity would look like.

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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