While it is perfectly appropriate for President Obama to ask the Congress of the United States to pass a joint resolution use of force authorization to deal with the threat of ISIS, it is imperative that Congress not pass a use of force authorization that restricts the Commander in Chief in the context of using that force. Even given that President Obama is asking Congress to pass a restricted use of force authorization that would in essence “tie his hands” in the conduct of the anticipated “war with ISIS,” it would be a strategic and tactical mistake to telegraph to ISIS any limitations on American military power. In addition, it is up to the President as the Commander in Chief to wage war, not Congress.
Historically, Congress rarely exercises its independent power to “declare war” under Article I of the Constitution and instead passes authorizations for the Commander in Chief to use force. In so doing, Congress generally does not authorize the use of military force with built in restrictions. For example, in the Use of Force Authorization against Iraq in 2002 the Congress gave President Bush the power to use our military force as “he determines to be necessary and appropriate.”
Here’s pertinent text from the joint resolution in October 2002 that gave President George W. Bush the authority to use force in Iraq: “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to . . . defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
Following the attacks of 9/11, Congress passed a Use of Force resolution authorizing the Commander in Chief to take action to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” This authorization is still in effect and Congress placed no limit on where the President could use military force or for how long. Congress provided the President with solid authority to introduce America’s armed forces into hostilities as he saw fit. Passed only three days after 9/11 in an unprecedented show of unity, this resolution was passed by the Senate (98-0) and the House of Representatives (420-1) by an overwhelming majority, save one member from California.
That resolution specifically stated: “That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
In short, this Congress must not restrict the use of force against ISIS. Even if President Obama desires a restriction of American force, it is up to him as the Commander in Chief to wage the war, and Congress must provide him with all available options to do so.