Reading through the president’s proposed congressional authorization for the use of force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, I couldn’t help wondering what Obama was actually hoping to achieve with it.
Whatever the answer to that question might be, however, one thing is abundantly clear: In its current form, the resolution is totally unacceptable. It contains at least three poison pills, each of which on its own should be enough to kill the bill.
First is the time limit of three years. This is another of Obama’s signature declarations that we’re going to fight the enemy for a time certain, regardless of the outcome and regardless of whether the enemy continues fighting after that deadline. Once again, instead of a strategy, we have a deadline.
Second, and even worse, is the repeal of the Iraq war resolution of 2002. That is unacceptable because the twin objectives of that resolution — to remove the threat to the United States posed by Iraq and to bring Iraq into compliance with 16 Security Council resolutions, including protection of minorities and ending support for terrorism — are still in doubt. When Obama withdrew forces from Iraq prematurely in 2011, he in effect pushed Iraq into the control of terroristic Shiite militias and into the orbit of terror-sponsor Iran. That means Iraq is dangerous again, and the results of our war there are still in doubt, which means that — as a result of Obama’s own actions — the 2002 resolution remains necessary.
Third, and worst of all, is the proposed resolution’s specific exclusion of ground troops: “The authority granted . . . does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” Because the starting baseline for any authorization is the 2001 resolution against al-Qaeda (which Obama has used as the basis for operations against the Islamic State for the last six months) and the 2002 resolution against Iraq, this new authorization would actually reduce the scope of what is authorized now.
So why did the president choose to present this resolution now? The clear aim of the resolution is not to authorize force against the Islamic State, but to place political obstacles in the path of using ground forces in a strategy that might actually work. It is not an authorization, it is a de-authorization. The strategy behind it seems to be to force Republicans into a painful vote that will pit the GOP’s foreign-policy hawks against its libertarian doves.
If so, the strategy is likely to boomerang on Democrats. This is not Harry Reid’s Senate anymore. In its present form, the resolution will not survive markup in the Armed Services Committee (John McCain, chairman). It is inconceivable, for example, that Senator McCain would let a resolution out of the committee containing language that in effect prohibits the use of ground troops. By the time the resolution arrives on the floor of the Senate, it is likely to be stripped of its poison pills. It will be a broad, open-ended resolution.
Such a resolution will lose a number of Republican votes. It will almost certainly be opposed by Senator Rand Paul, whose own proposed resolution is actually much worse than Obama’s: After solemnly declaring “war,” Paul’s proposal laughably limits the use of force to the protection of U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria; practically prohibits the use of force against affiliates of the Islamic State; repeals both the Iraq resolution and the resolution of force against al-Qaeda; and is limited to one year.
But an open-ended resolution is likely to lose a lot more Democratic votes, and might even draw the threat of a presidential veto. What a spectacle that would be for the world to behold: Obama and the Democrats opposing his own resolution authorizing force against the Islamic State, because it’s so broad that we might actually win.
— National Review contributing editor Mario Loyola is a former counsel for foreign and defense policy to the U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee.