FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

ISIS and Congress

by

Nastiness is not exclusive. Nor can be banished by noble evocations of protecting those who are in danger or being prosecuted. In politics, those distinctions become even less significant. The next chapter in the sanguinary saga of ISIS and its progress in Iraq is the involvement of US strikes, the decision for which was incubating in the White House situation room for some time. Congress was certainly not present, and the political chess players in Washington evidently feel that involving that often confused body was not in the interests of the administration.

There are problems of a considerable magnitude here. For one, President Barack Obama himself acknowledged them when dealing with the issue of congressional authorisation some twelve months ago. Then, it was Syria and threatened deployment of force over the use of chemical weapons. The words are laced by a necessary duplicity – Congress, for instance, does not give the President official authority to use drones in Waziristan, or for that matter a host of low-intensity conflicts involving American personnel and material. Call it another name, and it slips through the net.

When it came to the issue of Syria, the political paparazzi were all too keen to see what he had come up with. Then, Obama wanted the US to target Assad’s targets, but would only so as “President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.” Fine, and sterling stuff, and would be even better if true. “I’ve long believed,” he continued to say, “that our power is rooted not just in our military might, but in our example as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And that’s why I’ve made a second decision: I will seek authorisation for the use of force from the American representatives in Congress.” It never came, and the red line turned distinctly pale in retreat.

The point for Obama was roping in Congress and making the deal a collaborative one. We bomb, but not alone. We bomb together, excited by the humanitarianism of the moment. Even more strikingly, there is a sense that the enterprise, criminal or otherwise, must be shared in.

“We all know there are no easy options. But I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions. And neither were the members of the House and the Senate. I’ve told you what I believe, that our security and our values demand that we cannot turn away from the massacre of countless civilians with chemical weapons. And our democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together.”

The point about the US intervention now is that Obama did not seek an overly legalistic explanation via the 2002 AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution). “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to… defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

It was one of those documents that masquerades as law when it is, in fact, simply a broad expression of power. To suggest that the ISIS threat, when absorbed into the Iraqi dilemma, somehow poses a threat to the US, is something of a contortion of reasoning, though it is not without some attraction. What the President deems necessary has a breath and width tyrants would yearn for. The original remit had been protecting US staff and interests, but these have ballooned in focus. The President is now relying on his “inherent” powers to do a bit of mischief.

As Jack Goldsmith argues, “It is not at all hard to interpret this statute to authorize the President to use force today to defend US national security from the threat posed by the ISIS-induced collapse of Iraq.”

It may not be hard to, but such lazy reasoning is exactly the point why the Republic is in such terrible bother: open ended declarations of liberty to intervene in other states; the policeman’s insatiable lust to correct states of disorder on some pretext of doing good.

Congress is not in a state to offer coherent support. It is barely able to back Obama on basic issues of budgetary finance, and finding a uniting voice is nigh impossible. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio has suggested that the President has succumbed to a fit of “parochial thinking”, not because he was reserved, but that he should have acted sooner. “Vital national interests are at stake, yet the White House has remained disengaged despite warnings from Iraqi leaders, Congress and even members of his own administration.”

Those off the patriotic drugs of intervention are critical from the other side – that the President is succumbing to a bit of old fashioned bloodlust in pushing the American agenda in Iraq. Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, oozes the anti-war flavour, and suggests that, “While the President has existing authority to protect American diplomatic personnel, I remain concerned about US mission creep in Iraq and escalation into a larger conflict, which I oppose.”

What Obama, and his team will rely on, are those desperate pictures, the cruelties being practiced on the Yazidi sect, the cultural war being waged, and the war on Christianity, to justify further claims for intervention. The issue of whether boots will suddenly reappear on the ground is all too real. Congress remains the Republic’s side show observers.

The only ones to be really cheering may well be the Kurdish peshmerga, who find a genuine prospect of statehood coming out of the slaughter. ISIS has become their great foe, but paradoxically, it may well be their great deliverance. There are reports of Kurdish forces fighting back. They will be pleased, understandably, with any help they can get.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail