Herbert London: A Resolution To Be Irresolute
With great fanfare, President Obama asked Congress to consider his proposal – some would call it his strategy – for military operations against the Islamic State.
The powers requested from the Congress have initiated a debate among Democrats and Republicans with Dems arguing for strict limits on presidential war powers and Reps contending more flexibility in the fight against IS than the president has proposed.
In fact, the president has called for a three year authorization for military force that locks in action for Obama’s successor. The president also proposed repeating the 2002 war authorization act that gave President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Not only does the president call for a time limit, he is also “handcuffing” his successor.
The effect of the president’s resolution is to win bipartisan support for irresolution. It simply defies the reality on the ground. President Obama reveals, yet again, an underwhelming understanding of IS and its imperial goals, even admitting recently that he had not yet fully formed a strategy for opposing ISIL. There is little doubt a defense condominium of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordon and Kuwait should be mobilized to engage the enemy on the ground, but these nations are looking for American leadership. The recalcitrance shown by Obama is not regarded as leadership. By limiting U.S. involvement in the war to three years and restricting ground troops, the president is scripting a war to suit his own ambitions. Unfortunately IS leaders don’t accept his script.
Willing a set of conditions doesn’t make them accurate. Even though the president is seemingly taking a cautious stance, it is actually reckless. Pinprick bombings have not adversely affected IS’s ability to attack, despite several military reverses in the last few weeks. It would appear that the president is far more interested in adhering to his philosophical position of scaling back on American military commitments, than degrading and destroying the enemy.
As I see it, Obama’s strategy – if I can generously call it that – is bound to fail. Air strikes alone rarely win wars. The use of military trainers, only needlessly puts U.S. soldiers in a vulnerable position. We are not in and we are not out. President Obama assumes the threats are overstated and we are being “alarmed” by events media panjandrums exaggerate. For him, expansive presidential war authority should be curtailed. Alas, on this point, he may be correct. But he is asking the Congress to be as irresolute as he is, to move inexorably to a position that restricts all combat missions. Defining war in a manner consistent with philosophical assumptions doesn’t make it true.
While the essence of his proposal is for a strict limit on war fighting capability, the president did note, “If we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our special forces to take action, because I will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.” If the president’s initial comments closed the door, this statement seemingly leaves it ajar. Apparently some ground operations are acceptable, but the terms for their use remain ambiguous.
Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters, “I think (the president’s proposal) is carte blanche…” Surely it is half-hearted, displaying the attitude of a man who doesn’t want to fight, but finding himself in the position of yielding to the need for some engagement. Hence a resolution that is irresolute; a direction that is unclear; a restriction intended to limit future presidents and a position that must bring a smile to our enemies everywhere.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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