Only Congress can authorize military action: A stronger response against ISIS may be necessary, but Obama must seek approval

The United States’ airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is prompting some members of Congress from both parties to push for authorization for any further military action that President Barack Obama wants to take.

The situation is not unlike the push in the House of Representatives in August 2013 to put pressure on President Obama to seek congressional authorization against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-VA) penned separate letters to the White House, signed by more than 170 colleagues, in which they encouraged the administration to come to Congress, as the Constitution requires.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) recently told the Associated Press that, in light of the current situation in Iraq, he wants to “destroy ISIS militarily,” but said that such a campaign would need to be approved by Congress. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has also said that President Obama must ask Congress for further action against ISIS, something that has gotten under the skin of his Democratic colleagues.

Some, like Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), want to take the issue a step further. The Hill reports that Wolf plans to introduce legislation next week that would not only authorize the use of force against ISIS but also other terrorist organizations:

Wolf’s legislation would further authorize the use of force against al Qaeda and its regional affiliates, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and any other “emerging” terrorist group sharing “a common violent extremist ideology.”

Wolf said that the House and Senate should address the terrorist group during its brief session in September.


“Congress needs to act on this before recessing at the end of September,” Wolf said.

The Virginia Republican said his bill allowing the use of military force would establish clear congressional and executive authority.


“This resolution would provide clear authority for the president and our military, working with coalition partners, to go after these terrorists, whether in Syria, Iraq or elsewhere. We cannot continue operating on outdated authorities passed 13 years ago; it is time for this Congress to vote,” Wolf said.

While the situation with ISIS may have to be addressed with a more involved military campaign — though, it’s entirely worth studying and discussing how its bloody and violent rise was enabled by the United States — a string of military campaigns against terrorist organizations that aren’t a real threat to the homeland.

With that said, however, Paul, Kaine, Wolf, and others have it right. President Obama doesn’t have the ability to unilaterally launch military campaigns against foreign powers or terrorist organizations without congressional authorization. Despite claims of foreign policy hawks and current and past administrations, the War Powers Resolution places very explicit limits on a president’s ability to expend military resources.

The Constitution is the final word on the question of war, and its clearly defined process isn’t an inconvenience when the United States faces a foreign threat. If President Obama wants to wage a larger campaign against ISIS, he must seek authorization from Congress. End of story.

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