Subscribe
The Monitor's View

US needs unity to counter Islamic State

President Obama has led the bombing of Islamic State for five months with no new legal authority. Now he will propose his own law. Congress must unite behind the principles and goals in this effort while giving latitude to the president for dynamic threats.

  • close
    Smoke rises from the Syrian border city of Kobani following an airstrike by the US-led coalition, seen from a hilltop inside Turkey.
    AP Photo/file
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

Five months after the United States began to bomb Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, it still has no new law authorizing this military action. President Obama had asked Congress to pass one. But lawmakers have so far failed to agree. Now the president has reversed course. He said this week he will propose his own law, known generally as an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

This delay in providing a legal underpinning for the war reveals two nonlegal problems:

One, the threat from terrorist groups keeps shifting in geography and tactics. Are Al Qaeda groups aligned with Islamic State or opposed to it? What if new groups in Libya or Yemen pledge loyalty to IS? What if terrorists carry out attacks on more highly symbolic targets in the West, such as the one on the French satirical magazine?

Two, despite 13 years of experience since 9/11, Americans and their lawmakers have yet to define the core principles – beyond defense of Americans – that would guide the commander in chief in leading all types of counterterrorism activities, from drones to electronic surveillance to boots on the ground. Since 2001, the various actions against terrorists have also spawned protests, court challenges, and frequent micromanagement by Congress.

The best laws are often the simplest because the principles and goals are clear to everyone. Yet Congress and the president have not been clear on a strategy toward IS, especially in Syria. In addition, disputes rage over how to track people who might join IS or how to respond if Syria uses chemical weapons or if IS expands to other countries.

Mr. Obama has warned Congress of a muddled consensus on the war powers granted to a president. “Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may ... continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation-states,” he said in a 2013 speech.

Congress and the president must agree on an AUMF that represents a long-lasting consensus on the efforts against the dynamic terrorist threats, leaving the president with enough flexibility and discretion to respond to new situations. “None of us can imagine all of the circumstances that could arise,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, citing the possibility of IS obtaining chemical weapons and the need for a quick response with US combat troops.

Just after 9/11, Americans were united in a war against Al Qaeda. The 2001 AUMF was only 60 words. By 2002, another AUMF for a war in Iraq was much longer. Those laws are now out of date because the threats have changed. The wording of a new law can again be short if lawmakers and the president agree on the principles at stake. After all, the war against terrorists is mainly a war over principles, such as freedom and pluralism. The best weapon would be unity around the principles guiding each new aspect of this war.

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK