President Obama has embarked upon a war against the Islamic State. This war should have been unnecessary. But the President failed to reach a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government and failed to prevent the Maliki government’s marginalization of the Sunnis within Iraqi society and the exacerbation of Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions. The result has been a power vacuum that was filled by the Islamic State’s arrival as the putative “rescuer” of Iraq’s Sunnis.
The President is conducting air strikes, not only in Iraq, but also in Syria, and he is sending increasing numbers of American troops to serve in various training and advisory capacities.
The problem is that he is doing all these things on a very weak to non-existent legal basis. He is arguing that he can legally conduct these actions against the Islamic State on the basis of the 2001 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against “those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.” But the Islamic State was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
In addition, the War Powers Resolution gives a President 60 days to gain Congressional consent and requires that he end hostilities within 30 days if these are being conducted without such consent. This 90 day period has expired.
Some people argue that Congress has implicitly given its consent by permitting some monies to be spent for these purposes. However, a dangerous precedent is being set. War is too important an enterprise to be conducted in disregard of both the Constitution and an explicit act of Congress.
If we are to be involved in a war against the Islamic State, our elected representatives should make an explicit decision to this effect, and hold themselves accountable to the people. Any such decision should be based on a forthright evaluation of the vital security interests that are at stake, and how success in this enterprise is to be defined. Congressional abdication from serious discussion of these issues risks giving this President and future Presidents excessive discretion in a matter on which the Constitution requires Congressional action.