Congress’s Duty in the War With ISIS


But as the American military is doing its job, Congress is refusing to do its duty. Nearly three years into the war against ISIS, lawmakers have ducked their constitutional responsibility for making war by not passing legislation authorizing the anti-ISIS fight. This is not merely a bureaucratic issue. While the president has the power to order troops into battle, the founders were adamant about ensuring that only Congress could commit the nation to protracted overseas military actions.

Since President Obama began the fight against ISIS in 2014, the Pentagon has operated under the 2001 authorization for the use of military force that was passed after Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. But that justification is of questionable legality because ISIS did not exist when the authorization was approved.

Past efforts to enact a new ISIS-related authorization of military force, by Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, and others, have been stymied because of congressional fecklessness. But Mr. Kaine is quietly soliciting support for a new proposal. The issue received fresh attention last week when Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that it could be argued that the United States had “effectively invaded northern Syria, violating the sovereignty of a country in the Middle East.”

Mr. Mattis replied that because ISIS had basically erased the border between Iraq and Syria, the United States could not “draw that imaginary line in the midst of an enemy” and say it’s safe on one side. Even so, he said he would “take no issue” if Congress passed a new authorization, viewing it as a “statement of the American people’s resolve” to fight ISIS.

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