The Islamic State is evil. But that’s no reason for America to go to war again in the Middle East or for Congress to approve more years of conflict.
The president requested formal legal authority to war against ISIL—more than six months after dropping the first bomb on the self-proclaimed caliphate. The United States is defending a gaggle of frenemies from a far weaker foe unable to seriously threaten America.
The Obama administration long ignored the group’s gains, recognizing that ISIL was more about insurgency than terrorism, and was targeting Middle Eastern countries, not the United States.
The administration reversed course when the group’s advances threatened Kurdistan’s capital of Erbil and Iraq’s Yazidi community. Then the beheading of two American hostages transformed administration policy.
Now President Obama claims the Islamic State threatens “U.S. national security.” But how? How can a few thousand insurgents, locked in bitter combat with several Middle Eastern nations endanger the globe’s superpower?
The administration created yet another pseudo-coalition, with U.S. forces responsible for over 90 percent of the airstrikes, as of last week. “ISIL is going to lose,” declared the president. But Washington gave the group a recruiting bonanza. The Associated Press reported that foreign fighters continue to join “in unprecedented numbers.”
In seeking congressional authority, the administration is playing on emotions. Hostage Kayla Mueller’s killing “fueled congressional outrage and renewed calls to defeat” the organization, reported USA Today.
Yet her tragic fate demonstrates ISIL’s limited reach. The only U.S. citizens harmed by the Islamic State are those who voluntarily traveled to a war zone.
Of course, the president paints ISIL’s threats much more broadly. However, the longer the “caliphate” has existed in cities like Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, the less popular ISIL has become.
The group has succeeded so far only because of others’ failings. In Syria, a civil war destroyed the political order. In Iraq, the sectarian Shia central government spawned a Sunni counter-reaction.
The Islamic State found the going much tougher once it expanded. Indeed, the movement has targeted nations with a million or more men under arms. Paradoxically, Washington is protecting ISIL from this formidable collection of enemies by taking over other nations’ defense duties.
Unfortunately, the proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force would further entangle America in sectarian war without addressing the reasons for ISIL’s success. The measure would leave in place the 2001 AUMF, directed against al-Qaeda, under which the administration improbably claimed authority to attack the Islamic State.
Moreover, the new measure would be a dangerous expansion of executive power. First, the administration requested authority to wage at least three more years of war. Secretary of State John Kerry also urged “provisions for extension” of such a limit.
Second, there is no geographic limit. Today the United States is operating in Iraq and Syria. The new AUMF would authorize combat anywhere.
Third, the measure does not limit war to the Islamic State. Also included are “any closely related successor entity” and “associated persons or forces,” meaning ISIL’s allies, defined as “fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” That would cover almost any Iraqi or Syrian opposition group.
Fourth, the resolution bars only “enduring offensive ground operations.” However, the current operation is described as a matter of America’s “inherent right of individual and collective self-defense” even though ISIL did not attack America. Moreover, the president’s transmittal letter exempted a variety of military actions from any limit, including “missions to enable kinetic strikes.”
Fifth, as I point out on Forbes online, “instead of turning the war over to threatened Arab states, the new AUMF would assure Washington’s “allies” that they need not worry about their own defense. The administration plans to create a herd of long-term military dependents.”
If Congress truly is concerned about legality, it should enforce the 2001 AUMF. Any new measure should sharply limit military operations. Legislators should end old wars rather than rationalize new ones.