06 Nov Obama to Seek Congressional Authorization for ISIS Campaign
Huge news coming from the White House last night and today: the President will ask Congress for specific authorization for military action against ISIS.
This is a welcome development. The White House had previously argued that military action against ISIS was already authorized under the 9/11 AUMF, the Iraq AUMF, or some combination of both. None of these arguments was particularly convincing. The 9/11 AUMF is inapplicable because ISIS was excommunicated from al-Qaeda long ago and is now a competitor to it. The Iraq AUMF is temporally and geographically problematic. The temporal problem stems from the fact that the Iraq war is over and the original authorization died with it. The geographical problem is that it is unclear why a congressional authorization to invade Iraq should give the White House authorization to fight a war in Syria. As a final matter, I’m not sure how mixing and matching the two authorizations helps matters in any meaningful way.
The White House says that Obama still believes that he has authority to engage ISIS even without a new authorization, which complicates how this incident should be viewed as precedent. If the request for authorization is indeed supererogatory, then Obama has at least preserved, for the time being, his broad interpretation of the prior statutory authorizations. Until they are repealed, this is still a relevant issue. However, his decision to go to Congress must carry some weight regardless of what he says about it being discretionary or not.
Will Congress pass an authorization? You bet. Everyone knows that ISIS is a regional threat and a growing threat to the homeland. Furthermore, I find Obama’s timing here somewhat curious. Apparently he was waiting until after the mid-term elections to announce that he was seeking congressional approval. I have no idea why (as a matter of politics). If he had sought authorization before the election and received it, this would have strengthened his image as a foreign policy president dealing with the most pressing and emerging threats. Furthermore, thinking of this as a “new” war helps his image. If it is viewed as an “old” war, he is open to criticism that the situation was caused by his failure to deal with the Iraq War appropriately. On the other hand, if Congress had denied him the authorization, he could have used that denial as a sword against the Republicans going into the mid-term elections.