On Friday morning, U.S. fighter jets conducted the first bombings in Iraq since the President authorized airstrikes late Thursday evening, dropping two 500 lb. bombs outside Erbil in northern Iraq. With that bombardment, and those to come, begins the predictable grinding of political axes, the gnashing of partisan teeth, and the wringing of activist hands. What you won’t see is Congress demanding a say in the decision, as long as President Obama files his TPS reports, with the new cover-sheets.
President Obama authorized airstrikes Thursday night under the authority of the War Powers Resolution, a 1973 law that gives the President tremendous latitude in authorizing U.S. military action. One of the things the President is required to do, under that law, is to submit a report (like this one) to Congress within 48 hours:
The President shall submit within -18 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate a report, in writing, setting forth —
(A) the circumstances necessitating the introduction of United
States Armed Forces;
(B) the constitutional and legislative authority under which
such introduction took place; and
(C) the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or
That’s pretty much it, at least for the next couple of months. The law gives the President 60 days before he has to get a declaration of war or other authorization from Congress, or advise them that he needs a 30-day extension, or Congress decides to extend the President an additional sixty day period.
The law does allow for more vigorous oversight by Congress, but doesn’t require it, and you won’t see it. Especially since the Iraq war, there is absolutely no political percentage in having any part in the decision to use military force, while there is unlimited political booty to be had criticizing the decision to use military force. Oversight via Sunday talk shows allows you to slam the President for taking military action, or for not taking military action sooner, or for taking military action at all, or even praise the action, yet slam the President for not seeking authorization from Congress, or for waiting for authorization from Congress. It is a blank check of hackery. Who, in their right mind, would give that up?
In his announcement authorizing airstrikes, President Obama had to employ a whole lot of salesmanship, calling ISIS (or ISIL, pick one please!) “terrorists” nine times, and emphasizing the potential threat to U.S. personnel in Erbil, which just happens to coincide with the trapped Iraqis on a mountain. Without those U.S. personnel in Erbil, though, it would also be tougher to argue for strikes against ISIS in order to help the people on that mountain.
Last night, a senior administration official dismissed the idea of evacuating the personnel in Erbil, saying, “We have in Iraq a significant amount of ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and a capacity to closely monitor developments on the ground in the security of our facilities. We also had the request from the Iraqi government to take action. So we believe that provides us with the basis to essentially lay down a marker that we are going to take action with the airstrikes if we see movements by ISIL that put our people at risk,” and adding that “it’s our intention to defend against further ISIL encroachment towards Erbil,” as well as Baghdad.
Since Congress isn’t about to lift a finger to provide oversight here, the main reason for the song and dance is that the American people are just not that into using the military, even to prevent a genocide. But it was the American people who also overwhelmingly supported the disastrous invasion of Iraq in the first place. Decisions like this are why we elect leaders to represent us, leaders who presumably have more information than we do, and judgment we trust.
In this case, the decision has been left in the hands of a person who is trusted by a great many Americans, and whose judgment, thus far, has been sound. No one wants a slide back into endless war in Iraq, but if ever a group of assholes needed to be lit up, it is ISIS. President Obama also doesn’t have to worry about being reelected, unlike those in Congress who are supposed to hold war powers of their own.
There are practical considerations that necessitate the War Powers Resolution, but its use, in practice, has been for nothing more than an abdication of Congress’ responsibility. You might be comfortable with President Obama at the wheel (especially if you’re reading this site), but how will you feel under President Huckabee? The war powers afforded presidents, especially they way they’ve been used, offers them far too much flexibility, and more than that, gives Congress far too little responsibility.
The next time someone in Congress gets in front of a camera to pop off about airstrikes, one way or the other, someone should ask “Well, what are you prepared to do about it?”
Maybe get back that red Swingline stapler the President took.
Update: At 8:34, the White House released the following (via email from the White House):
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
August 8, 2014
TEXT OF A LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT TO THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND THE PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE OF THE SENATE
August 8, 2014
Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
As I announced publicly on August 7, 2014, I have authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted airstrikes in Iraq. These military operations will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to protect American personnel in Iraq by stopping the current advance on Erbil by the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.
Pursuant to this authorization, on August 8, 2014, U.S. military forces commenced targeted airstrike operations in Iraq.
In addition, I have authorized U.S. Armed Forces to provide humanitarian assistance in Iraq in an operation that commenced on August 7, 2014. These operations will also be limited to supporting the civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar.
I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. These actions are being undertaken in coordination with the Iraqi government.
I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148). I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.