As Obama escalates war on IS, Congress must give OK

With the president adding more troops in Iraq against Islamic State, the need for war authorization becomes more necessary. The war's future requires both disciplined thinking and political consensus.

Iraqi soldiers train with members of the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq.

As Islamic State displays more military strength in Iraq and Syria, President Obama has decided to deploy more soldiers to the war zone, which is already swarming with American war jets and drones. On Wednesday, he ordered an additional 450 troops to Iraq, bringing the total to some 3,500. 

He has also admitted he does “not yet have a complete strategy” to defeat IS, especially as much of the war effort relies on the Iraqi government to unite and rally its military.

Mr. Obama will need more than a troop surge or a winning strategy against the Islamic militants. Without a consensus in Congress in the form of legal authorization for this war, the commander in chief is missing out on the collective wisdom of the American people in determining the purpose and conduct of the war effort. 

As the president said in a 2014 speech at West Point, “Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.” 

In an earlier speech, he warned that any war powers given by Congress to a president must be done with discipline in “our thinking, our definitions, our actions.” 

Last year, Obama asked Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF. Yet a Congress that was all too eager to pass a measure on how Obama should negotiate with Iran has declined to approve an AUMF for the war in Iraq and Syria.

Now, with nearly 20 candidates in the race for president, the war is being debated on the campaign trail instead of being calmly deliberated on Capitol Hill. For sure, the issues are not easy: Should the US role in the war be given a time limit? When should combat troops be allowed instead of the current trainers and “advisers” for Iraqi troops? With so many terrorist groups around the world claiming allegiance to IS, what would be the geographic extent of US involvement?

Most of all, Congress, more than the current president, must define a US commitment to rebuilding a postwar Iraq and Syria. Obama will likely not be in office when the war ends.

The war against IS is different enough from the wars against Al Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq that the previous AUMFs of 2001 and 2003 do not apply. Al Qaeda and IS are now rivals.

A war effort needs unity and purpose to even begin, let alone to succeed. Before presidential politics heat up anymore, or Obama’s “incomplete” strategy puts more American boots on the ground, both he and Congress must bridge their differences and define a disciplined consensus on how to defeat IS.

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