Obama’s course “marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition,” Yale Law’s Bruce Ackerman argued long before any ground troops were deployed.
And beyond its illegality, it makes U.S. foreign policy less effective.
As law professor Ilya Somin explains in the Washington Post, “One of the main justifications for the Constitution’s requirement that presidents can only initiate a war if they have congressional authorization is to assure that any such war is backed by a large political consensus. If we decide to fight a war at all, it should only be in cases where there is widespread agreement that the war is justified and that we will do what is necessary to prevail. At least so far, the president’s war against ISIS has been a lesson in the dangers of launching a military intervention without that kind of political support.”
He acknowledges that the Obama Administration asked Congress to pass a new AUMF earlier this year. “But the draft it submitted to Congress had so many flaws that both Democrats and Republicans voiced strong objections, as did many academic experts,” he wrote. “Most Republicans do in fact support fighting ISIS. This is one of the few issues that Obama and GOP conservatives in Congress largely agree on. It should be possible for the two sides to come up with an AUMF that both can sign on to. Both the administration and Congress deserve blame for the failure to do so.”
Consider some of the ways that each are to blame.
There is little public debate about this illegal war-making—despite the fact that we’re in the midst of fiercely contested Republican and Democratic primaries—in part because the White House has been misleading the public about the extent of its actions. Even Friday, addressing special-ops troops sent to operate in Syria, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declared, “These forces do not have a combat mission.”
Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has been more forthright.
Testifying last Tuesday about the American troop presence in Syria and Iraq, where a U.S. special forces commando was killed during a raid on ISIS earlier this month, he said that American troops deployed there “won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground.”
Fox News reports that U.S. forces have engaged in combat missions against ISIS in Iraq for the last year; Colonel Steve Warren told a press briefing in Bagdhad last week that “we’re in combat,” adding “I thought I made that pretty clear ... That is why we all carry guns. That’s why we all get combat patches when we leave here, that’s why we all receive an immediate danger badge. So, of course we’re in combat.”
Why do journalists have to press exasperated military officials for these overdue acknowledgements as civilians in the White House obfuscate and dissemble? Many legislators apparently remain in the dark. “I don’t think Congress is always even close to fully knowledgeable as to what is happening,” Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Eli Lake and Josh Rogin.