Obama Should Be Leading Effort To Obtain War Powers To Fight ISIS

Sal Bommarito

Congress is revving up discussions pertaining to “American involvement in the military campaign against [ISIS]” so says the New York Times. Frankly, the debate will likely become more contentious as Congress and the president jockey for control of the deployment of more soldiers to the region.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), is intent on establishing appropriate roles for the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. Government in wartime situations. Mr. Menendez stated, “Congress rather than the executive has the responsibility and the authority to authorize military action and to declare war. [Congress is] the check and balance on executive power, . . .”

The president has indicated that he has the “legal authority” to fight against the Islamic State, this being an obvious difference from Menendez’ position. Yet, Secretary of State, John Kerry, is asking Congress to officially grant the president flexibility in his deliberations in the ISIS conflict. The most important issue relates to the use of ground troops.

The president has categorically said the U.S. will not deploy ground forces other than military advisors. However, Kerry said circumstances might arise in which the use of ground forces would be necessary, such as “the seizure of a hidden cache of chemical weapons by the Islamic State or the seizure of hostages.”

Congress, reflecting the mood of the American public, does not want to give free rein to Obama fearing that he will engage the U.S. in another long-term security and nation-building project. But, a strong case can be made that the president is the commander-in-chief, and he should have great latitude to lead the military in times of crisis.

When one boils down all the rhetoric, the president is creating another confrontation with Congress to add to the health care and immigration battles. Also, as Senator John McCain (R-AZ) indicated, the president should be proposing a battle plan and required authorities, not responding to congressional limitations. He needs to lead the effort, not react to strategies formulated by Congress.

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