Today the 60-day period designated by the War Powers Resolution that has so far allowed President Obama to take military action against an imminent threat to the United States should expire.
It was two months ago that President Obama declared that ISIS expansion from Syria into Iraq triggered the authority given to him by the War Powers Resolution to take unilateral action, absent congressional approval, against ISIS.
Given that this time has now expired, we should take a hard look at the mission. I have seven concerns.
1. It has no name — and just last week the Department of Defense tried to split the difference by declaring it part of the 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. While mission names are largely symbolic (“Urgent Fury,” “Overlord”) an officially named operation clarifies which global national-security efforts are the Defense Department’s main objectives. The military mission against Ebola in Africa, for example, is named “Operation United Assistance” — and in this case, the name should signal the destruction of ISIS. In addition, a named operation helps provide unity of effort for a multinational coalition and is important to military culture as the vehicle through which individual and unit combat achievements are recognized. By deliberately not naming this mission, the president is creating confusion and incoherence.
2. It has no authority. The 2001 and 2002 Bush-era Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) are, by the administration’s own logic, outdated. The president could argue that the 2001 AUMF gives him authority if he had for the last six years maintained that the long war on radical Islamic terrorist was an ongoing effort against a single enemy. But he hasn’t. He has repeatedly and emphatically insisted that he defeated the enemy that attacked us on September 11, 2001, and so by his own reasoning requires a new AUMF now.
3. It has few friends. The moderate rebels with whom we are supposedly partnering have publicly announced they are not interested in fighting ISIS. Rather, they are interested in fighting Bashar al-Assad — and troublingly enough, they think the airstrikes may benefit Assad. Before we made training and equipping so-called “moderate” rebels (which I opposed) into the cornerstone of our strategy, this should all have been well understood. In addition, the Iraqi army has proven woefully inept. After almost total collapse six months ago, most recently it has <a href="//localhost/”>accidentally dropped food and ammunition to ISIS fighters, and there are reports that it is preparing to abandon Baghdad as ISIS closes in. There is little reason to believe that it has radically changed in the last six months.
4. The friends we do have in the region are problematic. The coalition appears to be designed for a photo-op of U.S.-Arab collaboration. Our “partners” seem to be doing little if anything, and the United States should be deeply suspicious of anything that includes Qatar, given that nation’s long and unsavory sponsorship of radical Islamic terrorism, including, according to some reports, ISIS itself. Meanwhile, we are not doing enough to help our natural allies in the region, the Kurds. They are fighting for their survival and should be one of the cornerstones of the president’s policy, yet the administration insists on funneling supplies through Baghdad and not helping the Kurds sell their oil, which would surely help them become more self-sufficient.
5. President Obama’s strategy may well be emboldening our enemies, notably Iran and Syria. Tehran is exploiting our mutual antipathy for ISIS to extort concessions in the negotiations over its nuclear program. As has so often been the case in the Obama-Clinton-Kerry Iran policy, they are getting it backwards. ISIS is a much more proximate threat to Iran than it is to us; we should be using this opportunity to pressure Iran into significant concessions, not the other way around. In addition, the mullahs’ vassal, Bashar al-Assad, the murderous dictator of Syria, may well wind up <a href="//localhost/”>being the beneficiary of our action and use our strikes in Syria to consolidate his power.
6. The Obama administration can’t seem to figure out what is going on. The Pentagon admits it can’t get a clear line on what the strikes are achieving — if anything. We apparently almost bombed the very people we plan to train and equip. This gaping intelligence problem must be remedied immediately if this mission has any hopes of success.
7. It <a href="//localhost/”>doesn’t appear to be working. The bottom line is that 60 days into this operation ISIS is still growing. They <a href="//localhost/”>are adapting to our announced strategy, they know what we will and won’t do, and they are settling in to their claimed caliphate.
No one doubts that ISIS is evil and that it represents a serious threat to the United States. No one doubts the responsibility of the commander-in-chief to protect the United States from this enemy.
We need to immediately refocus this mission on defeating ISIS, not on resolving the Syrian civil war or encouraging political reconciliation in Baghdad.
Given that 60 days has expired, the president should come to Congress and get proper authorization for this new military action (with an official name for the operation). He should lay out clear, defined military objectives. Congress, as a united body, should reject every attempt from hostile actors such as Iran to exploit our mission for their own gain.
And we must abandon the fantasy that the Syrian moderate rebels will be our proxy army in this fight and prioritize instead working with the Kurdish forces who are also focused on ISIS.
At that point, with the entire United States Congress behind them in support of their mission, we should let our military men and women do what they do best: keep America free, safe, and strong.
We have the greatest armed forces on the planet, wonderful young men and women who have volunteered to fight for our freedom and who want to succeed. They are doing what they are asked with their well-known courage and expertise, but we must do all we can to ensure they are put in a position to win.
— Ted Cruz represents Texas in the United States Senate.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its initial posting.