Obama’s Checkbook

On February 11th President Obama sent a draft legislation to Congress that, if passed, would authorize his use of ground troops as a force against ISIL except in instances of “enduring offensive combat”. Those three words seem to have turned Congress on their heads. For some its to vague. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in response, “There’s a real ambivalence there. There should be more clarity in terms of what that means. There’s a lot at stake.” For others, like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the language is too restrictive to begin, with McCarthy saying it ” impose[s] undue restrictions on the U.S. military and make[s] it harder to win.”

In addition to stirring up the emotions of Congressmen (which lets face, anything that comes out of the White House does nowadays), the resolution also makes the same mistake as previous resolutions by handing Obama a blank check. Very similar language was crafted for the resolutions that gave Bush power to fight Iraq and LBJ power to fight in Vietnam. Both wars became infamous for running amok given the ambiguity of the language. Even though the AUMF proposed expires after 3 years, it won’t be Obama’s problem and it would be easily renewed. That also seems to be the last big concern raised with Obama’s AUMF – it places a burden on the next president. When the next president comes into office – be it a Clinton, Bush, Christie or anyone else – they will still be subject to this resolution given the timing. Many have raised concerns that the next president should be free to set his (or her) own agenda and not have to be subject to the language of this one. So the question is: why should Congress pass this at all?

Essentially it comes down to this: what we have here, even though it may have more problems than Jay-Z pulled over on the side of the road, is the best we’re going to get. If the White House or Congress tries to place anymore restrictions on what Obama can do, then the number of Congressmen who are against limiting the President’s ability to react and attack during times of war by placing restrictions on what he can and can’t do will only grow. The case that the President needs mobility is one put forth by people on both sides of the aisle and has garnered significant support. On the other hand, not passing a resolution isn’t an option. Although the President doesn’t actually need the resolution to continue fighting ISIL, the American population want to see something done. Republicans have always proudly worn their badge of being the men (and a few women) of war. For them not to take tangible steps when it comes to fighting ISIL would only disappoint their base and damage their credibility.

On the other hand, ISIL and the War on Terror will most likely still be an issue when 2016 rolls around and the last thing the Democrats can afford to do is look weak on terrorism. Passing a bill against terrorism, even if its largely pointless, would be a good image boost for the Democrats. And even if it is largely pointless, simply the notion of unification can be empowering. The American people want to feel like we’re doing something to fight terror and passing a bill like this one sends a signal to the world that America, despite the political gridlock, manages to stand united. At the end of the day, the resolution proposed strikes a good middle ground between restriction and freedom to act in times of war and its the best hope we have for getting Congress to agree. Obama might be asking for a blank check, but its better than no check at all.

Photo Courtesy of Architect of the Capital

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