FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Five Reasons Congress Should Reject Obama’s ISIS War

by

At long last, the Obama administration has submitted a draft resolution to Congress that would authorize the ongoing U.S.-led military intervention against the Islamic State, or ISIS.

The effort comes more than six months after the U.S. began bombing targets in Iraq and Syria. Since then, some 3,000 U.S. troops have been ordered to Iraq, and coalition air forces have carried out over 2,000 bombing runs on both sides of the border.

Better late than never? Maybe not.

The language proposed by the White House would authorize the president to deploy the U.S. military against the Islamic State and “associated persons or forces” for a period of three years, at which point the authorization would have to be renewed.

In an attempt to reassure members of Congress wary of signing off on another full-scale war in the Middle East, the authorization would supposedly prohibit the use of American soldiers in “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” It would also repeal the authorization that President George W. Bush used to invade Iraq back in 2002.

The New York Times describes the draft authorization as “a compromise to ease concerns of members in both noninterventionist and interventionist camps: those who believe the use of ground forces should be explicitly forbidden, and those who do not want to hamstring the commander in chief.”

As an ardent supporter of “hamstringing the commander in chief” in this particular case, let me count the ways that my concerns have not been eased by this resolution.

1. Its vague wording will almost certainly be abused.

For one thing, the administration has couched its limitations on the use of ground forces in some curiously porous language.

How long is an “enduring” engagement, for example? A week? A year? The full three years of the authorization and beyond?

And what’s an “offensive” operation if not one that involves invading another country? The resolution’s introduction claims outright that U.S. strikes against ISIS are justified by America’s “inherent right of individual and collective self-defense.” If Obama considers the whole war “inherently defensive,” does the proscription against “offensive” operations even apply?

And what counts as “combat”? In his last State of the Union address, Obama proclaimed that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.” But only two months earlier, he’d quietly extended the mission of nearly 10,000 U.S. troops in the country for at least another year. So the word seems meaningless.

In short, the limitation on ground troops is no limitation at all. “What they have in mind,” said California Democrat Adam Schiff, “is still fairly broad and subject to such wide interpretation that it could be used in almost any context.”

Any context? Yep. Because it’s not just the ISIS heartland we’re talking about.

2. It would authorize war anywhere on the planet.

For the past six months, we’ve been dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria. But the draft resolution doesn’t limit the authorization to those two countries. Indeed, the text makes no mention of any geographic limitations at all.

That could set the United States up for war in a huge swath of the Middle East. Immediate targets would likely include Jordan or Lebanon, where ISIS forces have hovered on the periphery and occasionally launched cross-border incursions. But it could also rope in countries like Libya or Yemen, where ISIS knockoff groups that don’t necessarily have any connection to the fighters in Iraq and Syria have set up shop.

This is no theoretical concern. The Obama administration has used Congress’ post-9/11 war authorization — which specifically targeted only the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and their patrons and supporters — to target a broad array of nominally “associated forces” in a stretch of the globe reaching from Somalia to the Philippines.

In fact, the administration has used the very same 2001 resolution to justify its current intervention in Iraq and Syria — the very war this new resolution is supposed to be authorizing.

How does the new resolution handle that?

3. It leaves the post-9/11 “endless war” authorization in place.

Yep. That means that even if Congress rejects his ISIS resolution, Obama could still claim the authority to bomb Iraq and Syria (not to mention Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Libya, and beyond) based on the older law.

It also means that if Congress does vote for the war but refuses to reauthorize it three years from now, some future president could fall back on the prior resolution as well.

Obama is explicit about this point. In his accompanying letter to Congress, the president claims that “existing statutes provide me with the authority I need to take these actions” against ISIS.

Yes, you read that right: Obama claims he doesn’t even need the authority he’s writing to Congress to request. And he’s saying so in the very letter in which he requests it.

So what does that say about this authorization?

4. It’s a charade.

Obama says that the war resolution is necessary to “show the world we are united in our resolve to counter the threat posed by” ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry added in a statementthat an authorization would send “a clear and powerful signal to the American people, to our allies, and to our enemies.”

But as any kid who’s taken middle school civics could tell you, the point of a war resolution is not to “show the world” anything, or “send a signal” to anyone.

The point is to encourage an open debate about how the United States behaves in the world and what acts of violence are committed in our name. Most importantly, it’s supposed to give the people’s representatives (such as they are) a chance to say no. Without that, it’s little more than an imperial farce.

Which is a shame. Because an empty shadow play about the scope of the latest war leaves out one crucial perspective…

5. War is not going to stop the spread of ISIS.

ISIS has flourished almost entirely because of political breakdown on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. That breakdown has been driven by a mess of factors — local sectarian tensions and a brutal civil war in Syria, assuredly, but also the catastrophic U.S. invasion of Iraq, ongoing U.S. support for a sectarian government in Baghdad that has deeply alienated millions of Sunnis, and helter-skelter funding for a variety of Syrian rebel groups by Washington and its allies.

Military intervention fixes precisely none of these problems, and indeed it repeats many of the same calamitous errors that helped to create them. A better strategy might focus on humanitarian assistance, strictly conditioned aid, and renewed diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire and power-sharing agreement in Syria, equal rights for minority populations in Iraq, and a regional arms embargo among the foreign powers fueling the conflict from all sides.

But as Sarah Lazare writes for Foreign Policy In Focus, saying yes to any of those things requires saying no to war. That means not just rejecting the ISIS authorization the administration wants now, but also the 2001 law it’s used to justify the war so far.

If you feel similarly, I’d encourage you to write your member of Congress immediately and let them hear it: No more rubber stamps. No more shadow play.

Peter Certo is the editor of Foreign Policy In Focus.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Douglas Valentine
The Real Man’s Ten Commandments
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail