Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution reads in part, “(Congress shall have the power) To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.”
The nation’s founders realized that although the president is the ultimate authority in deciding how America will fight a war, the power of declaring war should lie with the people’s representatives in the House and Senate.
This separation of powers is fundamental in our version of democracy, so why then has Congress abdicated this responsibility in refusing to vote on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) for our air operations in Iraq and Syria to thwart the Islamic State (IS)?
Representative Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who is now running for Senate, offered more candor in his answer to this question than most would expect from someone who has spent the past twenty years working on Capitol Hill.
“It’s an election year,” Kingston said. “A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”
Congress is no stranger to cynical motivations. This attitude is why we’re unlikely to see any legislation regarding immigration until after the November midterm elections.
However immigration is a more nuanced issue than bombing IS. The American public oscillates between plurality support for the Republican emphasis on border security and the Democratic preference for legalizing undocumented immigrants already in the country.
Contrast this to the 61 percent of Americans who support airstrikes against IS according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. You’ll rarely find a clearer mandate from a public fatigued by mission creep in the Middle East, yet Congress is content to allow a lame duck president accept all responsibility for foreign intervention when inaction is the most logical route to secure their own reelection.
After our seemingly unsuccessful mission in post-Hussein Iraq and the effect this had on the GOP’s electoral results in the latter years of the Bush Administration, preemption as casus belli is electorally dubious, yet being a representative of the people necessarily requires making hard choices as a form of accountability.
During the 2008 Democratic primary, Barack Obama was able to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton due to her vote in favor of the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. The simple act of going on record either in favor of or against various proposals is essential to maintaining an informed electorate. Without a vote on military action in Iraq in 2014, Congress is having their cake and eating it too.
To add to what Rep. Kingston said, it’s difficult for politicians to denounce this war after the fact if their prior support is logged in the Congressional Record. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, support airstrikes against IS or not, it’s imperative that our elected members of Congress vote yay or nay on this issue so that we can determine later on whether or not they are exercising sound judgment as stewards of the public trust.