If you want to know how pathetically deferential Congress has become to the executive branch when it comes to deciding whether to take military action, look no further than Tuesday’s meeting between congressional leaders and President Obama. During that meeting, Obama said he has unilateral authority to carry out a broader military campaign in both Iraq and Syria in order to act against the Islamic State (ISIS) but that he’d “welcome action by the Congress that would aid the overall effort and demonstrate to the world that the United States is united in defeating the threat.”
In other words, he’s probably going to authorize strikes in Syria and the arming of fighters on the ground, but a symbolic rubber stamp from Congress would be a nice touch.
As it turns out, however, he might not even get that. Here’s Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) of the House Armed Services Committee, who after the meeting said a vote on military action is unlikely:
“As a practical matter, I don’t really see the time that it would take to really get this out and have a full debate and discuss all the issues.”
Let that sink in for a moment. The chairman of the Armed Services Committee doesn’t think it would be “practical” for Congress to have a full debate or a vote in the matter of whether the U.S. will expand the current armed services campaign and to what extent.
Meanwhile, “two senior legislators — one from each party — told CNN’s Dana Bash that a congressional vote on military action against the jihadists was unlikely despite calls for one by many of their colleagues.”
Why does Congress seem so disinterested in taking a vote on taking military action? As Tommy Christopher noted on Tuesday,
“Congress, especially Republicans in Congress, has responsibilities it doesn’t want, especially when it comes to military action. The less they have to do with making actual decisions, the more they can play Goldilocks on Sunday shows and complain that the president’s actions are too weak, or too strong, or too pitchy, dawg, or whatever.”
The great irony here is that Republicans have been decrying Obama’s supposed executive power grabs since he first assumed office, and yet think nothing of allowing him to have great latitude in deciding on military action, which is arguably the most important decision a government can make. But as usual in Washington, political expedience trumps principle.
This isn’t to say that the U.S. shouldn’t take action against ISIS, or that Obama doesn’t have the authority to order military action under the criteria of the dubious War Powers Resolution (whose 90-day limit Obama exceeded in Libya in 2011), but it’s disturbing that the branch of government that is supposed to debate and vote on such nationally consequential matters is wholly disinterested in participating in any meaningful way.