At The Daily Beast, Josh Rogin reports that President Obama is keeping Congress in the dark regarding his strategy, aims, and goals when it comes to renewed fighting in Iraq and, potentially, Syria. Sadly, that's in keeping with Obama's past actions.
"Members will certainly have discussions about the path forward on [ISIL] when they return next week, but how could Congress vote to authorize some action when the president hasn't even made a compelling case to the American people about what our national objective and strategy should be?" a senior House GOP aide told The Daily Beast.
There's widespread frustration in both chambers and both parties about President Obama's admission that "we don't have a strategy yet" to deal with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But now the lack of strategy is actually protecting Obama from oversight because Congress can't authorize or reject what it can't understand.
Under the War Powers Act, a president can wage war-like actions for 60 days, with a one-time extension of 30 days, before getting authorization from Congress, which holds the power to declare war.
The administration has now reported to Congress three times under the War Powers Resolution about U.S. military force in Iraq; the first report was filed Aug. 8 and the most recent was filed Sept. 1. The reports notified Congress that the U.S. was waging war in Iraq for four distinct reasons: to protect American personnel in Erbil; to save the Yazidi minorities trapped on Mount Sinjar; to protect the Mosul Dam; and to save the people of the Shiite town of Amirli.
The War Powers clock expires Oct. 8, with a possible extension to Nov. 8. But the administration could argue that each new notification resets the clock and gives the president ongoing authority to attack in Iraq. To most in Congress, that's disingenuous at best, because the strikes are all part of the same operation and are all against the same foe in the same country.
Some sources claim that Obama may invoke his powers under Article 2 of the Constitution, though there is wide agreement that at least some of the strikes don't fall under that.
The Beast article paints a picture of a Congress that is ready and willing to authorize force to strike both in Iraq and in Syria. That's disturbing enough on its own, especially given the abject failure of the past decade-plus of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
But it is perhaps even more disturbing that Obama—the guy who taught constitutional law fer chrissakes and said he was against "dumb wars" and doing "stupid stuff"—is plainly uninterested or unwilling to do what's required of his office.
"If you are going to come to Congress, come to Congress to ask for a real authority to take on something that is a direct threat to the national interests of the United States and link that authority to an overall strategy. You could get congressional support or something like that," said another senior GOP Senate aide. "The president has to be the prime mover. He has to come to Congress and say, 'Look, guys, here's what we need to do and here's what we need to do it.' And that hasn't happened yet."
OK, well, that's not going to happen now, is it? So will Congress actually step up and insist on its role? I'm betting not.
The procedures and processes in place are simply for show; it's through such things that better policies get worked out and actual consensus gets built. Lawmaking and politics at their best are, like markets, a discovery process and not simply a technicality to circumvented out of fear or arrogance.