It’s satisfying to live in the world we want. In the world we occupy, President Obama doesn’t believe he needs Congressional authorization to use military force (war, for us laypeople) against ISIS in Syria. In his speech tonight at 9, we’ll likely hear of a bold plan to eradicate the jihadi menace, though the result will look more like managing it.
Whether the president’s Constitutional end-run will derive from the 2001 Authorization of Military Force or the War Powers Resolution is not yet clear. The former, which has been used to justify action from Guantanamo to Somalia, gave the executive power to engage the butchers of September 11. It has since transmogrified to include the absent words “associated forces,” which means what the administration wants it to mean, thank you for asking. The case that ISIS is an associated force to al Qaeda is difficult to make, given that ISIS did not exist in 2001 and that the two terrorist organizations are famously at odds.
The War Powers Resolution, a relic of our Vietnam adventure, allows the president to use military force if there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” That hasn’t happened. But creative lawyers (the most dangerous individuals in the English-speaking world) determined that if the president continues to send notifications to Congress of his actions, the 60 day window need never expire. The legislature is superfluous.
Back to the ideal world. When prolonged media attention brought us close to war with Syria last year, most members of Georgia’s Republican delegation, including Senator Isakson and Congressmen Westmoreland, Collins, Broun, Gingrey, and Graves announced their opposition to the authorization of military force the president now wants to side-step. Congressmen Broun stated there wasn’t a “direct threat to American national security”; Congressman Westmoreland worried about our inability to determine friend from foe in Syria. Senator Chambliss managed to support the strikes and mention the damning lack of strategy in a couple sentences.
Time changes all. Rather than trying to enforce international WMD law, the president hopes to wipe out jihadi barbarians who rightfully terrify us. Traditional Republicans like Kingston, who supported the War on Terror during the contentious Bush years, support limited attacks on ISIS. Isakson wants special forces involved. Rebellious Michigan Congressman Justin Amash (who shares a Ron Paul seal of approval with Paul Broun) is less keen on a new fight.
Congressman David Scott’s office reported that he has sponsored a resolution supporting military force, which I can’t seem to locate. The rest of Georgia’s Democrats have not responded to requests for comment. Few national Democrats have opposed the use of force.
But if 22 year veteran Jack Kingston is any guide, authorization would not pass easily. So easily politicized is the issue that this illiterate New Republic piece accused Kingston of dodging responsibility for electoral gain, before adding that he does, in fact, support a vote on military force.
It could be a hell of a debate, revealing a fascinating legislative divide, between hawkish Republicans and libertarian upstarts, anti-war Democrats and friends of the administration. The debate would tell us much about America’s ideological fault lines and the tensions in our nation’s soul. Too bad we won’t be allowed to have it.