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Even President Barack Obama, who tossed the issue of Syria’s use of chemical weapons to Congress, has relied on the outdated authorization passed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to validate multiple military operations today.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