Paul Ryan

Speaker Paul Ryan Calls Orlando Shooting 'Another Act of War,' No Word on War Declaration

But no plan for Congress to vote on a declaration or authorization


This morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan called Sunday's shooting in Orlando, where a gunman who reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) killed 49 people, "another act of war against America by radical Islam."

"Members of the LGBT community were the targets, they were simply attacked for who they are," Ryan noted. "This is an ideology that rejects who we are as a country—open, tolerant, free."

Radical Islam, Ryan argued, "preys on the vulnerable and the insecure, seeking to radicalize them into murders."

"This is a threat that knows no border, this is a threat that cannot be contained," the speaker said. "This is a threat that must simply be defeated."

Ryan pointed to House Republicans' "better way" proposals, which included a module on national security, and said the House had "acted on numerous occasions to address this terrorist threat and will continue to do so."

Not on the table is any actual declaration of war despite the use of the terminology by Ryan and in the "better way" national security policy paper, which asserts that after 9/11, the United States "embarked on a broad struggle against Islamist terror."

Yet the authorization for the use of military force that was passed in 2001 was limited to those nations, organizations, and persons determined by the president to have "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

At the time, the authorization was meant for Al-Qaeda and, specifically, for a military campaign in Afghanistan. Later, despite deploying the argument that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed a terrorist threat to the United States, the Bush administration sought and received an authorization for the use of military force in Iraq specifically.

Whether it's an organization or a nation, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the war against which the United States is participating in with other countries in the region and beyond, was not around on September 11, and so cannot reasonably be determined to have harbored the 9/11 terrorists. Today, U.S. military assets are engaged in and with conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere.

President Obama has said he wants an authorization of the use of military force specifically for ISIS, but also argues that he doesn't need it because U.S. military actions already have legal justification. The Obama administration dropped the terminology of the "war on terror" in 2009, but kept the so-called broader struggle going. Republicans have made hay over President Obama not using some variation of the term "radical Islam" and Donald Trump took credit for Hillary Clinton saying she would start doing so even though she said the term she used, "radical jihadism," was the same thing.

Clinton was a big advocate for the U.S. intervention in Libya, the failure to plan for the aftermath of which President Obama's called the worst mistake of his presidency. The intervention in Libya, which led to the overthrow and killing of long-time Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Qaddafi, was a signature "achievement" during Clinton's tenure as secretary of state. The Congress never bothered to muster the political will to either authorize or terminate the U.S. intervention in Libya's civil war.

Among the enumerated powers of Congress is the power to make declarations of war. In the legal and bureaucratic overgrowth of Washington, "authorizations for the use of military force" stand in for that power. The arrangement includes the Congress granting the president broad war powers via the War Powers Act, which allows the president, more or less, to deploy U.S. troops for a period of six months before seeking Congressional authorization, and has been twisted so as to provide cover for the deployment of troops anywhere for any time.

Most recently, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he would push for a vote on authorizing the war against ISIS, which would define what has appeared to be an ill-defined military campaign not just as presented to the public but as understood but administration officials themselves. Whether the ideology is "radical Islam" or "violent extremism," a term Obama has used, it's an ideology not an organization. ISIS, whether its defined as a terrorist organization or would-be caliphate proto-state, is an entity that the U.S. can, and does, participate in the fight against. No one authorized the Cold War but there were at least some differing debates over the various conflicts in which the U.S. engaged from Korea to Vietnam and other conflicts from Latin America to Afghanistan.

Congressional Republicans want to talk war but there appears to be little interest in either a declaration of war or doing the work of coming up with an authorization for the use of military force against ISIS that would articulate the dimensions of and commitments to the conflict, even though it's Congress' role.

Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, appear far more interested in using the Orlando shooting to control the arms available to the American people for their own defense rather, even though it's not Congress' role.