ISIS

Obama's Dumb, Rash, and Unilateral War

Don't buy the president's lame excuses for attacking ISIS without congressional approval.

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A few years ago, when President Obama unilaterally decided to get involved in Libya's civil war, he argued that he did not need approval from Congress because bombing military targets did not constitute "hostilities" under the War Powers Resolution. That argument was so laughable that it was rejected even by the war's supporters in Congress and the press, not to mention Obama's own Office of Legal Counsel.

For a while last week, it seemed the Obama administration was trying out a variation on that claim as an excuse for the newly expanded military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly refused to call a war. But the White House quickly corrected Kerry: This is a bona fide war—just not the sort that Congress has to declare.

To be more precise, Obama claims Congress already declared war on ISIS, although it surely did not realize it was doing that. Thirteen years ago this week, the president notes, Congress authorized George W. Bush "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons."

It is hard to see how that Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) covers ISIS, which did not exist at the time and, although it used to be affiliated with Al Qaeda, has been repudiated and expelled by the latter organization. Defending Obama's interpretation of the AUMF, former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger tells The New York Times you could "read the reference to 9/11 organizations to include all the evolving versions of radical jihadism." Yes, you could read it that way, but not very plausibly.

In a speech last year, Obama argued that Congress should "refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF's mandate," because "unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states." You can't say he didn't warn us.

Obama has a back-up justification for the war against ISIS—or at least, the part of it that is happening in Iraq. "The 2002 Iraq AUMF would serve as an alternative statutory authority basis on which the president may rely for military action in Iraq," the White House says. "Even so, our position on the 2002 AUMF hasn't changed and we'd like to see it repealed."

So here is another authority that Obama says he should not have but which he is nevertheless happy to use as a rationale to avoid a constitutionally required vote by Congress. Nor is that the only awkward part.

Obama was famously against the war in Iraq, which he called "dumb" and "rash." Three years ago the White House bragged that his promise to end that war had been "wholly fulfilled." Last June the White House said the Iraq AUMF "is no longer used for any U.S. Government activities."

By citing the Iraq AUMF as cover for the war against ISIS, Obama contradicts himself. Apparently the war he ended continues, and the obsolete authorization for it is suddenly relevant.

Obama needs a legal fig leaf to cover his blatant hypocrisy. As a presidential candidate in 2007, he declared that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Obama admits ISIS does not pose such a threat.

A cowardly Congress is happy to accommodate Obama's power grab. Legislators are mindful of popular support for action against ISIS but afraid to endorse a war that may end disastrously. By limiting their role to approving the arming and training of Syrian rebels, they can have it both ways, and all they have to sacrifice is the Constitution.

NEXT: Brickbat: Eat Less Chikkin

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  1. It’s not that they would say no, that’s for sure.

    1. If I were Obama, I’d refuse to start bombing until Congress voted. They’ll do it if they have to.

  2. he argued that he did not need approval from Congress because bombing military targets did not constitute “hostilities” under the War Powers Resolution.

    The way I heard it from Chocolate Nixon apologist friends was that it was a NATO operation and hence the Constitution didn’t apply.

    1. So the Constitution only allows Congress and international political bodies to declare war for the US. That makes tons of sense.

    2. Ah, so that means US military can opt to sit it out.

  3. …or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001…

    The president has a blank check to fight those he has determined have aided the terrorists. Just about anything can be said to aid the terrorists – if it weren’t for capitalists like those on Wall Street, for example, the terrorists would have a harder time getting their hands on money so capitalists have aided the terrorists. The AUMF could probably be used to justify bombing the WTC under that definition.

    Remember, they attacked us because they hate us for our freedom. To the extent that you use your freedom, you are aiding the terrorists by inflaming their hatred. Why do you think the government is working so hard to stamp out freedom?

  4. Why not just do this legally, rather than try to concoct some weak justification for an illegal act? To give cover for Democrats in Congress? To expand power just for the heck of it? Why?

    1. Because after 6 years in office, Obama feels he should just be able to kill anyone he wants without having to beg other sociopaths for permission. It gets tiresome, that constant search for permission. One wearies of having to jump through such hoops.

    2. To give cover for Democrats in Congress? To expand power just for the heck of it?

      Yes.

      1. +1 for protecting Democrats from the pro-war label

        BHO has never drawn a breath that wasn’t politically calculated.

    3. For the same reason why cops routinely lie on reports and in court, even when the truth would suffice.

      Because power is no fun unless you abuse it.

    4. What, and ask mere mortals for permission? Who will say unto him, “What doest thou?”

  5. Barack Obama, constitutional scholar, studied that thing backwards and forwards and concluded that the Executive Branch can do whatever the hell it wants. Who are any of us to argue with a constitutional scholar?

    1. “the Executive Branch can do whatever the hell it wants”

      It can, if Congress and the people let the president get away with it.

      1. Few members of Congress will demur to avoid taking an unpopular political stance, and “the people” are as a group barely conscious politically. Just another variation of the same political story we’ve heard since Wilson.

  6. It is and isn’t a war and is and isn’t covered by the AUMF, which is and isn’t a good thing. It’s Schr?dinger’s cats all the way down.

  7. At least one congressman we know is voting no and like any congressman in the 21st century should be doing, he lays out his reasons why to his constituents and anybody else who wants to know:

    https://www.facebook.com/repjustinamash

    Thank you for voting no, Mr. Amash.

  8. So, Jacob, do you think that if congress voted to give the president the authorization to run a couple dozen bombing runs in Iraq they wouldn’t pass it? This is your objection to military action against ISIS– that congress needs to rubber stamp it in order to put a pretty little bow on this campaign? Shrugs.

    I’m for this particular military campaign although I ‘m not without ambivalence. That said, I can think of better reasons to oppose it. I’d start with the idea of futility.

    1. By that logic, why should cops get warrants, they’re going to find drugs anyway.

      1. AdamJ|9.17.14 @ 9:53AM|#
        “By that logic,”…

        That’s commie-kid; logic is not among his skills.

    2. So you’re okay with the President waging war without congressional approval? Would you still be okay if it were a Republican president doing this?

    3. congress needs to rubber stamp it

      Congress needs to AUTHORIZE offensive military action, you mendacious twat. The president hass no legitimate authority to unilaterally go to war aside from organizing a defense against an active attack/invasion. Also, I second AdamnJ.

    4. So, Jacob, do you think that if congress voted to give the president the authorization to run a couple dozen bombing runs in Iraq they wouldn’t pass it?

      Yes, they would, only it’d be the GOP that would help pass it, and the Dems wouldn’t. We can’t have that, you see, because Obama wants to give the Dems cover here, and will NOT let the GOP get a political victory. That’s why he wants to bypass congress.

      that congress needs to rubber stamp it in order to put a pretty little bow on this campaign?

      Yes, Congress does. That constitution thingy spells that out pretty clearly.

      That said, I can think of better reasons to oppose it. I’d start with the idea of futility.

      Maybe, but regardless, if this president and his party are going to carp over the prior president being a “cowboy”, even though he DID follow the law, then it’s incumbent on this one to follow the same laws. Is that too much to ask from his apologists?

  9. “Obama contradicts himself. ”

    So what else is new?

  10. There is a dude that jsut has no clue at all man.

    http://www.CryptAnon.tk

  11. So, Obama is doing what Bush did, based on permission that Bush received.

    But when Bush did it it was bad.

    Only this time it is different because Obama is the one doing it.

    1. It’s worse than that, ThomasD. Bush at least went to Congress.

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