Executive Power

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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White House

A few years ago, when President Barack Obama unilaterally decided to intervene 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 it seemed the Obama administration was trying out a variation on that claim as an excuse for its 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 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, 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 expelled by the latter organization. Defending Obama's interpretation of the AUMF, former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger told The New York Times you could "read the reference to 9/11 organizations to include all the evolving versions of radical jihadism." Yes, 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: Ronald Bailey Reports that the Internet Does Not Increase Transnational Terrorism

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  1. The law depends solely on what Obama’s definition of “is” is.

    1. je suis l’?tat

      1. “L’?tat, c’est moi”.

        1. @#*&@ grumble (#*$@

        2. Je vous accuse de l?se-majest

          1. and freedom fries etc

            1. I fart in your general direction!

              1. Feche le vache!

              2. They actually shot that scene in some derelict medieval castle near where I grew up.

      2. I thought it was, “l’?tat: c’est moi”

        i admit = my french is mostly limited to the proper pronunciation of creole dishes.

        1. I think there are variations, but my C pass in Ordinary Grade French from the Scottish Board of Education only gets me so far.

        2. I think old Louis IV says “je suis l’?tat” in Le Roi Danse. A great movie by the way centered around the French composer Lully who, to put it mildy, was a real character.

          1. It’s good to be the king.

      3. Another fuckin’ Swede!

  2. How’s a president supposed to carry out his mandate with congress and the constitution constantly getting in the way?

  3. I still don’t understand WTF the problem with putting the proposal before congress is.

    Is he just that power-hungry? Its not like they’re going to be able to say ‘no’. Does he consider it to be an unbearable humiliation to have to ask someone who’s going to say ‘yes’ anyway?

    1. Does he consider it to be an unbearable humiliation to have to ask someone who’s going to say ‘yes’ anyway?

      I’m coming to this very conclusion. Obama seems a Wilsonian progressive who believes that his election is a mandate to do whatever he thinks best. In his worldview–I believe–he should not have to ask congress for anything. He is the president, after all.

      1. I came to that conclusion when he pushed back the mandates for Obamacare, after the Republicans told him they’d support him doing that.

        Basically, everything he does is a “fuck you” to Republicans and he isn’t interested in any solution where he has to share credit.

    2. Because our spineless members of congress don’t want their fingerprints on something that goes terribly, awefully, expensively and embarrassingly wrong.

      1. But that’s not *his* problem.

        Congress doesn’t want to have to make the decision – and I can understand why and why they’re letting the president get away with this.

        But I don’t understand why the *president* is doing this. There is, literally, no downside to his putting this before them and forcing them to take responsibility.

        1. If it goes well, he still gets credit and, by proxy, the Democrats.

        2. If it goes bad – it was the Republican’s fault.

        3. Congress can’t say no – *they’re* as complicit in building ISIS up to be the new boogeyman as the Obama administration.

        1. To be honest here and trying to be objective, setting aside my libertarian beliefs and, to put it mildly, my low opinion of Obama, the man genuinely regards the US Constitution and all its quaint little notions of checks on power etc. as little more than irritations to his agenda…and Congress, despite some hollow, disingenuous rhetoric is quite happy to let him have his way.

          1. I think Obama has had more 9-0 decisions against him from SCOTUS than any other president.

            1. I’m not sure that’s correct, and if it is a lot of those cases started in previous administrations. It takes a long while to work up to SCOTUS.

              1. You could be right, didn’t do a check here, was just recalling something I read. Maybe someone could verify or refute.

                1. I’m sure he cares little for Constitutional principles when they seem to constrain him though.

                  1. Before Obumbles the Constitutional scholar was elected president I heard an interview he did on NPR where he was asked what he thought the Constitution lacked. His reply…”a more redistributive emphasis”…I remember that single comment setting off alarm bells since its underlying philosophy is based on negative rights there’s nary a redistributive notion to be found in the document.

                  2. I expect that he doesn’t want to become no longer useful to “the powers that be” prior to the end of his term.

              2. I also question the argument that ‘Obama has had more 9-0 decisions against him’ since it’s the government which has had a lot of 9-0 decisions. Let’s say a case gets brought against the government based on a law passed in 2004. If the administration loses the case, that’s not a rebuke of Obama. It’s a rebuke of a a law passed by Bush with a Republican congress.

                The Republicans obviously want to make this entirely about Obama, but it’s actually about abuses of government power generally. Obama’s a symptom of an increasingly authoritarian government, not the cause.

                1. OK, but President Constitutional Scholar could have confessed error rather than sinking like Ahab on the wrong end of a 9-0 vote.

                2. Let’s say a case gets brought against the government based on a law passed in 2004. If the administration loses the case, that’s not a rebuke of Obama. It’s a rebuke of a a law passed by Bush with a Republican congress.

                  Obama’s people are the ones enforcing and litigating on behalf of that law, so yes it is a rebuke of him as well.

              3. He has had 20 9-0 losses before the court. I can’t find anyone who has had more, but that doesn’t really matter. The man has 20 unanimous losses.

                Just think about it Bo, what do the proggies mean when they call themselves Progressives? They want to make progress, do big things etc. and the constitution is an impediment to them. Teddy Roosevelt, the first proggie president said so explicitly. Rule of law is not on their agenda, progress is. They are true totalitarians at heart, true believers in TOP MEN.

              4. As usual Bo you’re full of shit. The recess appointment case is the one that immediately comes to mind, and that was absolutely his own administration’s doing. Plus, any case that comes up during his term is one that he has chosen to continue litigating, so he’s responsible for it.

                It’s also cute that you profess ignorance of what these cases are, then immediately state your reasons for why they don’t count.

              5. It is correct.

            2. I think that’s incorrect. I read somewhere that he’s got the most over the course of six years, but other Presidents have had more in total.

        2. Iraq was Bush’s war, but because he had Congress support it, it will become Hillary’s too, during the next campaign.

          I can see Congress, from a political point of view, letting Obama mess up with ISIS. It is not on their hands.

          I don’t think this is good, or shows any leadership, but strategically it sort of makes sense. (In the long run strategically it never makes sense to be a weasel.)

      2. Which is weird because the campaign against ISIS is actually going pretty well.

        1. Reference needed as well as you qualifying what “well” means.

          We talking Libya well?

    3. Most recent Presidents have tried to maintain what they see as presidential prerogatives from Congressional overreach. This is true for a large number of areas. The real question is why Congress does virtually nothing in response.

      1. That’s actually easy to answer – until some future president dissolves congress – they get to enjoy immense perks and privileges while being mostly insulated from the consequences of their actions.

      2. Because President Clinton demonstrated that impeachment, the main tool congress has to constraint the president’s purview per the Federalist Papers, is a complete dud of a weapon. Impeachment was designed to be powerful weapon even if the Senate doesn’t convict, but that was a complete miscalculation by the Founding Fathers. Once there was a two party system impeachment becomes less a means by which an errant president is humiliated by the people’s house and more just another partisan weapon.

        I think the Founding Fathers also envisioned that Congress might strike back at an imperial presidency by refusing to fund the various “dignities” of the executive, but that kind of stuff only works when there is no mass media. If the Congress grounded Air Force One for a month they could probally get the president to shape up, but that would seem extremely petty. Before mass media that kind of pettiness as a weapon for seperation of powers worked because only the people effected really knew about it. Once every action of the Congress has to be undertaken in a media environment you just can’t use those kind of tools anymore.

        1. I think the media is becoming less of a weapon, as evidenced by the most recent election.

          The biggest weapon the press has is its polls…and those polls turned out to be catastrophically wrong for the Democrats in several states. The mainstream press projected Republican gains, they didn’t project a landslide. It’s becoming ever more apparent that the press’ ability to sway the voters is actually decreasing as other venues are able to carry news.

  4. “Obama’s Dumb, Rash, and Unilateral __________”

    A template for all future articles regarding Obama.

  5. 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.

    That was a veiled cry for help – ‘Stop me! Before I kill again!’

  6. “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.”

    My interpretation of obama’s pre-election attitude re: congressional authorization was that he didn’t want to have democrats ‘own’ the conflict, in the event things go poorly.

    After the election I expected him to continue to pretend everything is AOK, but then passively go along with a GOP-led authorization (‘war declaration’) so that he could claim bipartisanship; the only kink in that idea would be if congress tried to impose limits or conditions on Obama’s war-making authority… which is a fight i think he wouldn’t mind having if only for how it might serve to put the GOP more in public focus, and take pressure off of the ACA debacle, immigration angst, and race-riot bad-optics of the status quo.

    in short = given that almost everything Obama does has nothing to do with policy objectives or concerns with constitutional strictures, and everything to do with Partisan Political gamesmanship, his hitherto avoidance of congressional input on the ISIS issue seemed to me to be purely a strategic political ploy with zero actual relation to his national security concerns. IOW, I don’t think he’s a unitary executive on this issue because of any particular ‘principle’, but simply because its politically convenient.

    1. They couldn’t see his hands! Mighta had a concealed chicken tender in there.

    2. And no one’s protesting it, right?

      1. Can’t use the ‘hand’s up, don’t shoot!’ slogan for this one.

        1. You can’t even use for the last one. The forensics show that he didn’t have his hands up.

          I mean, I’m all for skepticism toward law enforcement, but for goodness’ sake, there’s very to build a police brutality argument against here.

    3. At this point any unnecessary stop by a cop which doesn’t end with someone getting beaten or shot should count as a win.

      1. Yeah, the cop was obviously dispatched because someone called in about a “suspicious” person in their neighborhood. He certainly could have done better than you had your hands in your pocket. Unless he was given information that the guy looked like he was casing the neighborhood there was no reason to even stop him. He could have just checked the situation out and told the dispatcher nothing to see here. To his credit, as soon as he saw that he had pissed the guy off for talking to him he tried to deescalate the situation.

    4. Where’s Dumphy to tell us the cop had a right to shooot him?

    5. This guy is correct:

      No one called that cop…He just stopped a black guy to see what he was doing and where he was going…The cop was fishing for nervousness or whatever he could use to escalate the situation to where he could nominally justify an arrest….

    6. “Brandon B Waxx McKean pulled his hands out of his pockets to begin video recording, which prompted the Oakland County sheriff’s deputy to pull out his own phone to record in a vertical syndrome standoff

      ? never heard that expression. Is that when two people start filming each other going, “what? i’m not touching you. I’m not touching you. Do something.”

      I personally find the sight of people surrounding a person and filming them while pretending they’re they’re ‘innocent bystanders’ to be sort of gross. They are basically saying “Hit me so i have something to post on Youtube”

      I mean, things like this

      Its a bizarre passive-aggressive thing that i’m still not comfortable with. It also makes me think of ‘film studies’ classes i took which discussed how cameras ‘obviate the viewer’ and remove them from the subject matter. i.e. using a camera is a way of ‘removing yourself’ from the event. It creates the illusion of a barrier between the filmer and filmed. Each person isn’t dealing with the another ‘person’ anymore; they are dealing with a ‘filmed subject’. 2 people doing to each other seems like a total breakdown in honest human relations.

    7. So, the cop’s a former Marine?

  7. The most challenging thing for BHO is finding a way to make a worse clusterfuck out of this.

    I have faith in his ability to do that.

    1. Well that wouldn’t be a surprise at all. But what’s really amazing is that, without fail, the Republicans will object to what he does, and he will, using media aided jiu jitsu, turn it into a story about Republican overreach.

  8. In the absence of boot lickers, “unilateral” is Obama’s approach to everything.

  9. sorry, jacob, your just being a shortsighted moron
    typical of a libertarian

    1. You’re my favorite troll because you’re the dumbest one. Even Flaming Ballsack can write a complete sentence.

      Congratulations – you’re less intelligent than someone who named themselves ‘Flaming Ballsack.’

      1. Test?culos en Fuego!

      2. And Flaming Ballsack’s goddamn incoherent half the time. I could literally write a chatbot that would appear more intelligent than joshrendell.

        1. Well, a simple script with some web scrapping logic to get the name “Jacob” combined with a randomized list of insults would pretty much generate the comment above.

          However, if I were writing it, I’d be tempted to have capitalization and punctuation. But if you think about it, making all the words lower case without punctuation will handle a tremendous amount of edge cases that would tend to make it look more like a bot.

          Isn’t it pretty normal for chat bots trying to fake a Turing test, to pretend to be writing a second language and to forgo complex pieces of grammar?

    2. Also, people who can’t find the distinction between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ have no right calling people morons.

    3. How’s that “hope” and “change” workin’ out for you?

  10. Another thing: the Dems will no doubt ignore foreign policy this election cycle, just as they did last time. It’s their Achille’s tendon, unless they plan on openly endorsing militarism, which is always a possibility.

    OT: I’m moving more and more toward constitutional conservatism and minarchism now; “libertarian” just doesn’t cut it for me anymore.

    1. Obama got in office originally by focusing on foreign policy.

      1. And then did the exact opposite of what he promised. I see no difference between the neoconservatism practiced by the Dems and the neoconservatism practiced by the Reps.

        1. There are differences IMO, between initiating and not and in scope of intervention. But you’re correct he reneged on the primary promises he ran on.

          1. There are differences IMO, between initiating and not and in scope of intervention. But you’re correct he reneged on the primary promises he ran on.

            Except that Obama HAS initiated military interventions on multiple occasions, including our catastrophic involvement in Libya.

            He also surrounds himself with interventionist goons like Samantha Power who is basically just a neo-conservative who talks about ‘humanitarianism’ rather than ‘Democracy.’

            If Obama were serious about the foreign policy arguments he was making in 2008, someone like Power never would have had any involvement in his administration.

            1. I think the difference lies in thinking about invasions. Invasions and occupations are big scale events that Democrats seem reluctant to engage in since their debacle in Vietnam

              1. So the difference between the Democrats and Republicans is that their both interventionists, the Democrats are just far less responsible about it.

                If you’re going to intervene, it frequently requires an occupation of some kind. If you’re unwilling to occupy a country after you topple its ruling class you’re probably just going to cause chaos on a massive scale.

                The Democrats are cowards when it comes to foreign policy. They’re just as interventionist as the Republicans, they’re just horrifyingly dishonest and refuse to consider what must be done to ensure future stability. The Republicans don’t always succeed in creating stability – as in Iraq – but at least acknowledge the importance of trying. The Democrats imagine that you can topple dictators and just skeddadle without any negative consequences.

                1. If it’s cowardice that makes them spend less blood and treasure in foreign interventions then two cheers for cowardice.

                  And this whole notion of our ‘responsibility’ strikes me as somewhere between silly and at least subordinate to my values about less government and non intervention.

            2. Samantha Power is married to Cass Sunstein.

              Do I need to elaborate on what that means?

              1. Do I need to elaborate on what that means?

                That lizard people are mating?

      2. Really? Foreign policy?

        IIRC, he got into office via Hope and Change–free shit and progressivism.

        1. True, but he certainly ran on being President Peace Prize, as well. That’s always an easy Foreign policy position to take when trying to capture the Democrat vote. And in that case it made him the perfect anti-Bush.

        2. Let me be clear: we will, uh, return to our foreign policy of, uh, peace AFTER all of this has been, uh, dealt with. Because there are clearly a lot of folks out there who are, uh, tired of war.

      3. “Obama got in office originally by focusing on foreign policy.”

        “I’m not Bush, and let’s get out of Iraq” is not really a ‘foreign policy’

        1. Yes, I forgot your tired pendanticism re foreign policy v ideology. Or I just ignored it.

          1. lol

            pedant. from you.

  11. I read something about falling oil prices and it had a part that got me thinking. Apparently the Gulf countries will spend some of their foreign currency reserves to get through the price dip. I wonder what currency they will be dumping and what effect this will have on that currency?

    1. So cause our wells to shut down and dump our money back on us?

      Some friends they are.

      1. This is all part of Obama’s aforementioned ‘foreign policy’ sales pitch

        because clearly, making concessions with Iran has no obviously adverse consequences for ‘allied’ nations like Saudi Arabia and Israel. Why should we be surprised that both have no problems telling us to go fuck ourselves.

        I continue to maintain that the Obama admin’s foreign policy (or lack thereof) demonstrates the most stunning degree of incompetence ever seen in the post WWII era.

        And this is something of a consensus view from inside and outside the beltway over the past 6 years

        1. Yes, I know, Gilmore, Iran is super-duper bad, a totally irrational actor, and cannot be negotiated or reasoned with at all.

          Why don’t you pick up a rifle and get over there?

  12. The anti-Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion protesters really piss me off, and it pisses me off that KM couldn’t get an injunction extension for no reason, so they will have to forgo their second borehole because without an injunction apparently asshole protesters can fuck with their drilling or something. They should have enough data even without the second borehole to apply with the NEB. What can companies do about these guys? Hire the Hells Angels or some other ‘direct action’ organization? Maybe we need counter-protests, and that is why you should become an Energy Citizen.

    http://energycitizens.org/ec/advocacy/default.aspx

    1. And what about that EO that CLinton singed taking a lot of coal fields off-line? Is that still in force?

  13. I didn’t realize Jacob Sullum was so racist.

  14. 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.

    Of course, it’s ok when HE does it because he is so smart and everyone else is a dumb, redneck, teabagger.

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  17. I’m sorry, but the Yazidis were very close to being wiped out. If you aren’t in favor of a preventing a literal genocide, well, I don’t know what to say.

    1. If we intervened every time someone was getting slaughtered in a racist war, we’d be in a state of perpetual warfare.

      At some point, you just have to accept that you can’t fix every part of the world.

    2. “JeremyR|11.28.14 @ 10:57PM|#

      I’m sorry, but the Yazidis were very close to being wiped out”

      If you think “the Yazidis” were the casus belli for the current ISIS campaign, I have some excellent beachfront property in Iowa to sell you.

      Firstly, it takes some monumental ignorance to still believe the faux-‘crisis’ of fabricated refugees stranded on a mountain that conveniently disappeared when they story no longer served any purpose for the media.

      The US was trying to find an excuse to intervene all summer long and this was the ‘cavalry riding to the rescue’-charade they needed.

      They didn’t even send any war planes near the supposedly ‘threatened’ Yazidis at the time – they bombed outside Erbil.

      strange, how that entire aspect has vanished. How much of the $5billion or so Obama wants for the current ‘mission’ do you think is earmarked for the Yazidis, or any other ‘genocide prevention’ effort?

      meanwhile, Yazidis now realize what a great moment they had, and are now in Permanent Crisis mode, appealing to the US to provide more-lasting protection. I’m sure Obama will get right on that

    3. The Yazidi crisis was fiction.

      But yes, let’s spend our money, endanger our soldiers/airmen/Marines, and piss on our constitution every time some random group appears to be threatened. That’ll learn em.

  18. I have to disagree on two counts.

    First – the 2001 AUMF is such a dangerous law because it is so vague. The law says he has the authority to use military force against those “he determines” were involved in the attacks. Not “he determines reasonably” or “he justifiably determines”, just “he determines”. If the President can think up some excuse why ISIS is al-Qaeda, then the text of the law authorizes him to use military force.

    The NDAA extends this to include “associated forces”, whatever the hell that means. At this point, Obama has, more or less, the authorization from Congress to go to war with whomever he pleases. This is a foolish choice, but that’s the result of passing a terrible, vague, poorly thought-out law.

    Second – the War Powers Resolution is probably unconstitutional. The President is commander-in-chief of the army. If Congress wishes to restrict the military activities of the President, they have the power of the purse.

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  21. “It is hard to see how that Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) covers ISIS, which did not exist at the time”

    Except that it did, as part of al Qaeda, the one organization no one disputes is among the 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.” And then there’s the 2002 AUMF that gives the President power to use military force to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

    To recap, we already have one war declaration for al Qaeda and a second one for Iraq. The notion that we need a third for Al Qaeda In Iraq doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    1. So a group that was rebuked by al Queda (the first AUMF) and does not pose a threat to the US (the second AUMF) is covered by those same AUMFs?

      Why, then, do Obama and company keep having to shift and squirm and weasel-word around this, then?

      I guess if you are a partisan hack, it all makes sense.

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