Declare War Only Against Those Who Threaten America

The Constitution gives the power to declare war to the legislative branch. In recent decades, however, members of Congress have preferred to leave the hard decisions to the president. This constitutional abdication has allowed unilateral war-making.

Even President Barack Obama, who tossed the issue of Syria’s use of chemical weapons to Congress, has relied on the outdated authorization passed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to validate multiple military operations today.

Congress could make a bad situation worse. Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Matt Salmon (R-AZ), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) have introduced H.J. Res. 84,”Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Islamist Extremism.” It would create a long list of target “organizations that support Islamist extremism,” many of which have done nothing against America.

It is a bad bill.

First, a country normally declares war against entities, not philosophies. What matters is not whether a nation or group is Islamist but whether it endangers America.

Second, the threat to the U.S. and other nations is violent extremism, not extremism. It doesn’t particularly matter if people have seemingly kooky ideas on how to live if they do not kill and otherwise harm others.

Third, war should be reserved for responding to threats to America. In World War II Washington declared war on specific countries, most notably Japan and Germany, not on fascism.

Yet Representatives Perry, Salmon, and Lummis came up with numerous new enemies: “the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Al-Nusra Front, the Haqqani-Network, the Taliban, Houthis, Khorasan Group, Hamas, Hezbollah, and any substantial supporters, associated forces, or closely related successor entities to any of such organizations.”

The proposed choice of enemies well illustrates the problem of U.S. foreign policy. The Islamic State did not turn to terrorism against America or Europe until Washington and its allies took over the fight against the putative caliphate. Had Washington left the battle to those in the region threatened by the Islamic State—essentially everyone—the group likely would be devoting its terrorist energies elsewhere.

Al-Qaeda remains an enemy, but not much of one after nearly 15 years. Moreover, by supporting Saudi Arabia’s brutal campaign in Yemen, Washington actually has weakened the forces against al-Qaeda and opened space for the Islamic State.

Al-Shabab is essentially a criminal gang operating in Somalia. It has little to do with America. So, too, Boko Haram, the vicious Islamic insurgency in Nigeria. Not every evil doer on earth is America’s problem.

The al-Nusra Front and Khorasan Group are seemingly associated with al-Qaeda but focused on the Syrian civil war. Ironically, they are on America’s “side” in that conflict. Washington should stay out of Syria.

The Haqqani Network and Taliban are America’s opponents in Afghanistan. However, Washington long ago fulfilled dispersed al-Qaeda and punished the Taliban for hosting anti-American terrorists. The U.S. should drop its forlorn attempt at nation-building.

Far from being Islamic extremists, the Houthis were known for religious moderation and are a Shia variant close to Sunnis. The group has never targeted Americans. Intolerant Saudi Arabia has turned the conflict into a sectarian struggle.

Hamas is a malign organization, but has no global ambitions and does not threaten America. Although also no friend of Israel, Hezbollah is not a military enemy of the U.S. Targeting Hezbollah would put America at odds with the Lebanese government—and the nation’s substantial Christian population.

As I wrote for National Interest: “Congress should declare war before the U.S. goes to war, but should approve military action only when Washington has no alternative course to protect America. That is not the case in the Mideast today.”