Tonight, President Obama gave a speech outlining a strategy for dealing with ISIS that includes an expanded and indefinite American bombing campaign, another small increase in American non-combat troops in Iraq, and support of an as-yet-unnamed coalition of Middle Eastern and European ground troops, including arming and training Syrian opposition forces.
The President claimed he already has authorization for war, but the growing consensus is that he does not. The Authorization of the Use of Military Force does not cover this military action, and the President should have asked for approval before beginning the bombing campaign a month ago. He should certainly ask for Congressional approval now before continuing and expanding it.
Congressional approval should not be a foregone conclusion. A debate in Congress is necessary because the President’s strategy leaves several causes for concern:
- The arming and training of Syrian rebels—what could go wrong? We have seen forces armed and trained by America become America’s enemies. We have seen forces allied with America be overrun and American weaponry fall into the hands of our enemies. We have seen American support of opposition forces lead to the overthrow of unpleasant regimes only to leave a power vacuum filled by our enemies. Will the arming and training of Syrian rebels intensify the “wrong” fight—against the Assad regime rather than against ISIS? Might it lead to an unstable Syria and a repeat of Libya, only worse?
- To the extent we are basing the stability of Iraq on the authority of an American-backed, Shiite-led Iraqi central government, we may be misunderstanding the discontent of local Sunni leaders who have temporarily allied with ISIS to throw off the authority of the central government but who are not otherwise committed to ISIS.
We ought to have a serious debate over whether we are understating the direct costs of military involvement and the long-term unintended consequences, while overstating the risks to the American homeland in the near future.
Recall that our military action in Libya ultimately led to the collapse of order and the evacuation of our embassy there. Mark Warner refused to hold President Obama accountable by demanding Congressional debate and authorization before our military actions commenced.