An Authorization for Failure | National Review Online


President Obama has sent Congress a proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State, and it’s not immediately clear why. His administration says it already has said authority via at least three different channels. Indeed, although the president’s proposal contains limits, he would still have ample legal authority to do whatever he wants against the Islamic State.

So why is he proposing this legislation at all? Because it would constrain our politically realistic options in the war against the Islamic State and Islamism in general, and he wants a congressional imprimatur for waging a constrained war.

An instructive example of his motivations is the bill’s repeal of the 2002 authorization for the use of force in Iraq. The president’s declaration of the end of our war did  not, obviously, mark the end of said war. There is no obvious reason, besides putting an artificial coda on our war in Iraq, to repeal the authorization. Should the now Iran-friendly Iraqi government begin violating U.N. Security Council resolutions or become a threat to the U.S., or should some new terror threat arise within Iraq’s borders, the 2002 AUMF would give the president clear power to act. This president prefers the power to boast of putting a legal end to George Bush’s Iraq War.

Worse, the president also would like Congress to prohibit “enduring offensive ground combat operations” against ISIS and for the resolution to expire three years hence. These two restrictions are unprecedented and dangerous limits on the war powers of the executive, the most expansive prerogatives the Constitution gives him. In the Korean War, some American troops planned to be home by Christmas 1950, but it wasn’t because President Truman was going to lose his authority to keep them there on Boxing Day. Never before have such restrictions been written into an authorization of force. Restrictions on the conduct of a war are an inappropriate directive for Congress to give to the commander-in-chief, and the only kind of president who would ask for them is one who hopes to share the blame for failure.

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