Rich Lowry: On ISIS, Congress should vote

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, September 17, 2014 8:30pm
  • Opinion

We have as close to a national consensus as possible in the war against ISIS.

Polls show the public wants strong measures. Practically everyone on the political spectrum says the terror group should be destroyed, even Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul. President Barack Obama has given a prime-time speech committing the country to a yearslong war.

And yet Congress can’t bring itself to vote to authorize military action. President Obama doesn’t want to ask for an authorization, and Congress doesn’t want to be asked. Who says that no one can get along in Washington? When it comes to evading democratic accountability, the consensus is broad and deep.

The advantages of an authorization are obvious. It would be an unmistakable statement of national will. It would communicate to our allies our seriousness. It would put everyone on record, so if the war goes badly it is harder for finger-in-the-wind members of Congress to bail out.

Even more obvious is the alliance of convenience between President Obama and Congress to avoid a vote (except on the more limited mission of arming and training Syrian rebels). The president doesn’t want to be bothered, especially after his ill-fated quest for a vote to authorize bombing Syria last year (the effort seemed doomed before he pulled the plug). And Congress doesn’t want to bother, not with an election looming and not when a vote would require taking needless responsibility.

So the president rummages around his desk drawers searching for a legal basis for his war, while Congress mumbles and looks at its shoes. Such are the exertions of the nation’s political branches as they embark on a long fight against an enemy of the United States.

Even if it is unauthorized, the war against ISIS is not illegal. The president has the inherent authority as commander in chief to act against a threat to the United States, and Americans have been killed by ISIS.

But Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith points out the problem for the administration in asserting this view. Under the War Powers Resolution — a fetish of the left — Congress must authorize military action 60 days after it is undertaken. So, unless the administration wants to openly defy the resolution — as it did during the Libya War when it argued that the monthslong bombing campaign against Moammar Gadhafi didn’t constitute “hostilities” — it would still need congressional authorization.

It prefers, then, to argue that the war has already been authorized. It is relying primarily on the 2001 authorization against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the Sept. 11 attacks, or “harbored” those who did. This has been taken as a broad mandate to hit al-Qaida or al-Qaida-allied groups.

Its application to ISIS is dubious, though. ISIS didn’t commit 9/11, and it is fighting al-Qaida rather than being allied with it.

As backup, the administration says the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War still applies. This, too, is tenuous. The 2002 legislation authorized the president “to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” The regime that constituted that threat is long gone, and President Obama declared the war over years ago.

It wasn’t long ago that President Obama was a scold about how important it was for Congress to authorize military interventions. It wasn’t long ago that his administration considered the 2001 and 2002 authorizations dated and overly broad, and talked of their repeal. Now, he is happy to sidestep Congress by any legalistic parsing necessary.

Just because the president doesn’t want to push for an authorization doesn’t mean Congress has to stand by the sidelines. Yet that is where it is happy to be. The fight against ISIS will be accompanied by fiery denunciations of the group’s barbarism and ringing statements of resolve. It will include everything, it seems, but a congressional vote of authorization. How pathetic.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail:

More in Opinion

Deven Mitchell greets his fellow members of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.’s Board of Trustees at the start of his interview to be the APFC’s new executive director on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: It’s an honor to now lead Alaska’s largest renewable resource

As a lifelong Alaskan, leading APFC is my childhood dream come true

Opinion: Freedom in the classroom sets precedence for the future

We advocate for the adoption of legislation to protect students’ First Amendment rights…

A roll of “I Voted” stickers await voters on Election Day in Alaska. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the prospect of a state constitutional convention. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Election winners, losers and poor losers

Tshibaka and Palin misread Alaskans by thinking Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed they’d win.

This 1981 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows an electron micrograph of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Children’s hospitals in parts of the country are seeing a distressing surge in RSV, a common respiratory illness that can cause severe breathing problems for babies. Cases fell dramatically two years ago as the pandemic shut down schools, day cares and businesses. Then, with restrictions easing, the summer of 2021 brought an alarming increase in what is normally a fall and winter virus. (CDC via AP)
Alaska Voices: What Alaskans need to know about RSV

By learning more about respiratory illnesses and taking helpful actions, we can all take steps to improve the situation

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Multiplying the power of every local dollar given

Each community foundation is a public charity that focuses on supporting a geographic area by pooling donations to meet community needs

The Homer Public Library as seen on Aug. 18, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (File photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Point of View: Banning books corrodes diversity and inclusion in our community

Recently, a community member requested that a long list of books be removed from the children’s collection

Peninsula Oilers fans display encouragin signs for Oilers’ pitcher Bryan Woo, Friday, June 28, 2019, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)
Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Judging judges — balancing the judicial selection process

Alaska’s method of selecting judges can be and should be improved.

Sarah Palin speaks at a July 11 Save America Rally featuring former President Donald Trump at Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The realities of Palin’s political demise

Palin wouldn’t be running for the seat if Rep. Don Young was still alive

Former Democratic state Rep. Beth Kerttula holds up a sign reading “Vote No Con Con,” during a recent rally at the Dimond Courthouse Plaza in Juneau. Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: What can a liberal and conservative agree on? Voting against a constitutional convention

“We disagree on many issues. But we… urge Alaskans to vote against Proposition 1.”

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Down to the wire: Be prepared before you vote

Remember your voice counts and all votes matter