This is the new reality of war: As long as the White House doesn’t admit the United States is at war, we’re all supposed to pretend as if that’s true. This ruse is not just the work of the president. Members of Congress, who return to work this week, are just as guilty as Barack Obama in letting the public think we’re Definitely Not at War, from Afghanistan and Somalia to the new war with Isis in Iraq and Syria and beyond.
Thirteen years on, the near limitless war authorization Congress passed for the Afghanistan war remains in place, with no sign that Congress wants to even debate revoking it. This is what will allow US troops to continue fighting, despite the mission supposedly being “formally” over. Just a month before Obama made his farcical announcement last week, he signed a secret order to ensure US troops continue to engage in combat missions against various “militant groups” in Afghanistan for all of 2015.
As the new Congress opens in Washington on Tuesday, it once again has the opportunity to formally debate and actually vote on the war against Isis, a constitutional obligation from which America’s politicians shamefully slunk away, preferring instead to campaign for re-election – free of difficult decision-making. Now, almost five months in to a war the administration freely admits will last for years if not decades, hardly anyone seems to care what legal experts across the political spectrum believe: thiswariswithoutprecedent – and it’sillegal without Congressional approval.
Now, the US Congress is not exactly a body known for its nuance and restraint, and there are many reasons why war against Isis remains a terrible idea, but if either the Republican-controlled House and Senate want to make an actual case for war, then that is their prerogative. But vote on it. Because the Obama administration has already gone down a dangerous path wherein the executive branch can unilaterally carry out virtually any war it wants without any official input from Congress.
Given the GOP’s newfound hatred of executive power, which the party seem to have conveniently forgotten was pioneered during every Republican administration since Nixon, you’d think Washington’s new majority might want to take this tiny step of debating and voting on the Isis war, as is their own constitutional duty.
Republicans would do well to use the president’s own words against him. As Barack Obama himself told the Boston Globe back in 2007:
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
Since virtually the entire US intelligence community agrees that Isis, no matter how awful and heinous the group may be, does not imminently threaten the mainland United States, maybe Congress can start off the new year by doing its job and actually voting on something required of them months ago.
Twice a week, Freedom of the Press Foundation's Trevor Timm examines the inner workings of American privacy, national security and media. Follow him on Twitter: @trevortimm