The United States has recently undertaken military action in five different countries. The case for congressional involvement in the decision-making process has hardly been self-evident. Congress has already enacted two Authorizations to Use Military Force, in 2001 for Afghanistan, and 2002 for Iraq. Presidents have used force over 200 times without congressional approval. Presidents Obama and Trump both have said no further authority is needed. The courts haven’t disagreed. The underlying objectives—defeating ISIS, countering terrorist threats, punishing the use of chemical weapons—seem sensible enough. Why should Congress get involved?
Congress should now get involved because the nation would benefit from thorough hearings, markups, and floor debate on new legislation that lays out clear objectives, authorizes force necessary to achieve those objectives, sets clear limits, and updates or repeals obsolete statutory authorities. The arguments against doing so are weak.
First, the two earlier laws have no application to the use of force against Syria. As to ISIS, the 2001 law authorized use of force against the two authors of the 9/11 attacks, Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It’s unconvincing to read it as authorizing war against ISIS—an organization that is now fighting against Al Qaeda in Syria, that had no hand in the 9/11 attacks, and that did not even exist until years afterward. The 2002 law authorized use of force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq—not to protect post-war Iraq against either internal or external threats such as ISIS.
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