Top 5 Reasons Obama is Seeking Congressional Approval for War on ISIL

By Juan Cole

President Obama said Wednesday that he would seek Congressional authorization for his war on ISIL or the “Islamic State” Group in Iraq and Syria. This statement comes after months of his administration maintaining that the AUMF of 2001 was still sufficient to underpin this effort. (In fact, it referred to war on those who planned and carried out 9/11, who are getting long in the tooth; it probably doesn’t actually cover radicals in al-Raqqah, Syria, today).

Why the about-face? Well of course we don’t know for sure or in detail. But here are some lively possibilities:

1. Obama may be trying to mollify Republicans so that they’ll cooperate with an extension of the aid program to train Syrian rebels, which runs out in December.

2. Obama is taking ISIL off the table as an issue during his last two years (and into the next presidential campaign) by this step. If the GOP Congress gives him the authorization, they will bear the blame if anything goes wrong. If they refuse, then everything that goes wrong will be their fault.

3. If they vote for an authorization for the use of military force, the GOP Congress won’t easily be able to blackmail Obama by threatening to withhold funding for the military effort against ISIL unless he gives in on some issue.

4. The GOP is internally deeply divided between establishment Republicans such as John McCain and libertarians or tea-partiers. The latter are often opposed to big US interventions abroad. Obama is throwing a pigeon among the cats by making the GOP debate the intervention among themselves, with all the internal rancor that might produce.

5. The way some potential GOP presidential candidates vote on the war on ISIL will become part of their record. If they vote for, they can’t run against a Democratic Party initiative in Iraq and Syria. If they vote against, they risk going against widespread public opinion in the US that Something Had to be Done.

Expect to see the Obama team put up a lot of laws and initiatives in hopes they can force the Republicans to take a stand on them one way or another, as a way of creating a narrative about them in the public mind leading up to 2016.

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Related video:

Wochit: “Obama Plans New Authorization for Military Force Against Islamic State”

7 Responses

  1. Regardless of the political calculations, it seems as the military- industrial-security-state complex will continue on its merry way.

    • Yes, it’s great that people in the Middle East continue to be the pawns in US political theatre.

  2. What about #6?

    Because it is the right thing to do and Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had been wary of embarrassing vulnerable Senate Democrats in the run-up to the midterm elections, no longer has the motive, or the clout, to prevent it.

  3. Obama may also be concerned about the absence of broad international enthusiasm for the US lead in this fraught and complicated issue. Not because of sympathy for ISIL but because few are sure precisely what US intentions are, and even doubt the US is all that sure either. The US reputation for omniscient moral authority looks increasingly like the emperor’s wardrobe, and while there is not much can be done about that Obama can at least try to avoid standing entirely alone when the cry is taken up.

  4. It will be interesting to see where Obama ends up after his tour of duty. Carter-style statesperson, Clinton flesh-presser? It would be nice if an ex-prez would actually write a tell-all, tell-it-like-it-is-was. Young empires have at least a mythical meaning and direction — even ISIS has direction and energy, however hateful. Old empires are just musclebound carcasses, being picked over by blowflies and carrion crows… dissipation, it’s the apparent nature of the beast.

  5. Door #2. It’s like Joni Ernst and poor hogs. It castrates the Republican war mongers for the next two years. No matter what the Republicans do they won’t be able to talk up escalating the war against ISIS until after the 2016 election. By then, over the next two years, Iraqi forces, Shia, Kurds and Sunnis, backed by American air power should be able to maul ISIS. They don’t have the military capability to withstand a sustained offensive by well trained and armed Iraqi forces, especially with no air power.

    A ‘lil bit of door # 4 is good. Throwing a pigeon among the cats ain’t a bad strategy. The antiwar Republicans won’t have to go into battle on an empty stomach or declawed.

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