While much of the wording in the president’s speech was good, the substance of how we accomplish what he laid out is what matters. I believe the president is exercising poor judgment by not explicitly seeking an authorization from Congress where consensus can be reached around a substantive plan of action and support can be built for an operation that he has described will take several years.I agree with Senator Corker. I basically liked what President Obama had to say. I wish he would have had a little more fire in the belly. I liked VP Biden's "Gates of Hell" speech better. I wish Obama would have said we are at war with ISIS and those who share the philosophy of radical Islam. I did not like that he said ISIS was neither Islamic or a state. ISIS may be a perversion of Islam, but obviously it is Islamic. While most of the worlds 1.6 million Muslims do not advocate a violent take over of the world and killing apostates and imposing Sharia law, a significant minority do. Saying ISIS is not Islamic is on the same par as are those who claim Islam is not even a religion.
So, while I quibble with some of Obama's delivery and wording, I don't basically disagree with what he had to say. I just wish I could believe him. Remember the redline? Also, a couple days before his speech he said we had no strategy. Even if that is true, why would he say it? That does not inspire confidence. And, he refuses to use the word "war," but at least he has overcome his reluctance to use the word "terrorism." Obama is just not a believable leader. He appears detached, weak, unreliable, and indecisive. He is not someone you would want to follow into battle. I don't think he can rally allies or the American people.
Will his plan work? I don't know. What should we do. I don't know that either? I have read a lot about the situation since the speech and have watched numerous talk shows, shows with shouting, interrupting loud mouths and shows on CSPAN with academics from think tanks, and I don't think anyone knows what we should do. Any coalition of opponents of ISIS contains elements that might be as bad as ISIS if they had the chance. Some of those who want to defeat ISIS are loyal to Iran. I wonder if there are any "good guys" in that conflict. It looks like the best bet is to support the Free Syrian Army, but they contain elements that are radical. If they are defeated, any armament we give them would fall into the hands of ISIS or some other radical group.
I agree with those who are war weary and do not want to see large number of boots on the ground. On the other hand, I disagree with those isolationist of the left and the right who say we should withdraw and mind our own affairs. This is our war. ISIS has said they are at war with us. We have been fortunate that we have not had another major terrorist attack since 9-11 but if we give the radicals Islamist a safe haven to plan and launch their next attack we may be hit even harder next time. Also, if the radical Islamist are not defeated their movement may grow and other countries may fall victim to the same ideology, if not a group flying the ISIS flag. We cannot withdraw to fortress America. If we do go in and defeat ISIS however, then what? Are we going to hang around and nation-build for the next 20 years? And if we do not, will another conflict break out with a new radical Islamic group threatening to take over as soon as we leave? I don't know, but I don't think anyone knows.
I do agree with those who have said we pulled out of Iraq too early and who say we should have left a much larger residual force in Iraq. I also agree with those who say we should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. Both of those things did happen however, and now we must move forward and deal with the situation at hand. There are those who want a much larger commitment of troops now. I am not with them. I say, let us see if this measured approach proposed by Obama works. Maybe it will or maybe he will keep the lid on and kick the can down the road until the next President can deal with it. Maybe, his plan will not be working and he will gradually increase advisors and trainers and intelligence officers until we are again drawn into a situation like Iraq was before we began withdrawing. I am not convinced this is the right strategy, but I don't see any alternative I like any better.
So, given the Presidents plan is the only plan on the table, does he need Congressional authority to act. Technically, probably not. I know there are some who believe the President does not have the authority to commit troops without a declaration of war. I don't think history bears that out. We fought the American Indian wars, the Barbary pirates and numerous conflicts since without a declaration of war. Since the founding of our nation we have had over 100 military conflicts and only five declarations of war. However, in many conflicts we have had Congressional authority to commit forces. As Commander in Chief, the President can commit troops without a declaration of war. The War Powers Act of 1973 requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. If that is not given, then the President has 30 days to withdraw the troops.
President Obama has said he will not request Congressional authority. He claims he already has it based on the thirteen-year-old 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force act as authority for the military action. That act was to allow President George W. Bush to go after Al Qaeda and the Taliban who provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda. The act was written in broad language to allow the executive branch to go after anyone associated with the 9/11 attack. That act was not only used to justify going to war in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime, but also to attack Al Qaeda and “associated groups” in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. On the basis that ISIS is group that was formerly part of Al Qaeda, the President says that gives him the authority he needs. This is ironic. President Obama has been critical of that 2001 AUAF act and as late as last year said he wanted the act repealed.
So, while the President does not necessarily require a new congressional authority, I think he would be wise to seek it. I guess mindful of the next election, he wants to avoid putting Democrat Senators on the line. Already having to defend Obamacare, their reelection may be more difficult if they have to defend an authorization of military force in Syria. I don't think either Republican or Democrats want to have to take a stand. Voting for or against a Presidential request for authority to commit forces could hurt the election chances of incumbent Republicans or Democrats. It could cut both ways. However, I think it is the right thing to do. I want a debate and I want members of Congress to take a stand. There needs to be some American buy-in to this course of action and the way we show that in our Representative democracy is for the Congress to speak. Before America commits forces, Congress should vote on it.
Senator Corker told CBS news on Thursday the President should request Congressional authority to use forces. "Triple underline -- I think it's incredibly poor judgment by the administration...not to seek aggressively and explicitly an authorization for the use of military force," in Iraq and Syria, he said. "Things are going to go wrong, let's face it. I mean, any time there's kinetic activity, problems occur. And I just think the administration would be so much wiser to get that authorization and buy-in from Congress on the front end, instead of having, over time, 535 Monday-morning quarterbacks."
I think Corker is exactly right. There is a lot of criticism now of the presidents plan. There are some who think we ought to do much more and some who think we should do nothing. This engagement in a new war should not be up to the discretion of one man. President Obama should ask for authority and Congress needs to debate the issue and either give the President the authority he ask for or not give him the authority and take the blame for doing nothing.
For more information and source of quotes, follow this link, and this link.
Follow this link to view Vice President Joe Biden's Gates of Hell speech.
Follow this link to view President Obama's speech to the Nation regarding ISIS.
Follow this link for more on President Obama's use of the 2001 AUAF act to justify action in Syria.