Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tiptoe around the War Powers Act

The US is bombing quite a bit of Iraq these days, targeting the forces of the Islamic State, or whichever name they're using today. (It used to be ISIS for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, then changed to ISIL, referring to Levant in place of Syria.)

Obama sent a letter to Congress on August 8 in compliance with the War Powers Act, which requires the president to notify Congress of military intervention, and conduct it for no more than 60 days without congressional authorization. So if the US continues bombing beyond Oct. 7, Congress needs to authorize it.

Oh no! Bad timing...

But wait! That's less than a month before the election. Will Congress be willing to take such a vote then? According to this article (and observations of this Congress), Republicans won't want to vote for anything the president requests. But they don't want to vote against military action either when it's action against murderous fundamentalist Muslim forces who are conducting mass shootings, terrifying minority religious groups, beheading high-profile prisoners, and threatening to take over the world. If you're a Republican, you hate Obama, but you hate Muslim extremists more. That still doesn't make it an easy vote, so Republicans will probably want to avoid it.

Dems have their own reasons for wanting to avoid it. They don't like reminders of how many Democrats voted for Bush's Iraq war resolution. If that was a mistake, wouldn't this be a mistake too? That's the easiest way to look at it. They can try to lessen the unease by putting limits on the military actions, but it's unclear that will satisfy wary Dems who'll have to take that vote.

So both Dems and GOP fear making a mistake on this vote. Will Obama force them to take a vote? If history is a guide, he won't. He never forced a vote on Libya. He got a lot of pushback against a vote authorizing bombing of Syria, and the vote never materialized. There's a very good chance that this vote won't happen either.

A Law is a Law

That's not good. We don't need yet another military action where the Congress was too divided to discuss and vote on it. We don't want to add to the precedent of a president and a Congress being too cowardly to follow a perfectly reasonable law... do we?

Maybe we don't mind it. Skirting laws probably happens all the time. The president and Congress don't follow the law, but they get away with it because ... the law is a pain in the ass, and no one that important is going to complain about the breach. Breaking the law is less embarrassing than having to decide which way to vote, so it's tough noogies to the law. Hey, maybe we shouldn't bother having laws at all.

Well, on second thought, laws are generally good, and it's best to abide by them for the most part. The War Powers Act is a reasonable law, and should be followed. Obama shouldn't be such a wuss--he should go to Congress and ask for authorization, a definite yes or a definite no. Then it's on Congress to act. They can authorize, vote against the authorization, or they can wimp out and not vote at all. If the members of Congress can't get a vote, they are the ones who failed to express their will, and Obama should do what he thinks needs to be done. That's still not in compliance with the law, but at least he gave it a chance.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda, but didn't.

Update 4/6/15. We now know how Congress will respond, and it's by wimping out. Obama sent a request to Congress on 2/11/15. For some, it's too limited a request, for some too much, and for some, it's the hated prez asking for something, so the answer is easy.

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