President Obama should seek Congress approval

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In 2008, the war-weary American public elected Democrat Barack Obama by a sweeping 7 percent margin that saw the Illinois senator winning a landslide 365 electoral votes to Republican John McCain’s 173. Obama ran up huge margins in states that Democrat John Kerry had barely managed to hold four years earlier (such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan), while expanding the map into traditionally solid-red states (such as North Carolina, Indiana and Virginia). While it was the Sept. 2008 financial crisis that propelled then-Senator Obama to his substantial win, one cannot ignore that the 2008 election was, in no small part, a referendum on the GOP’s perceived mishandling of the Iraq War and the War on Terror. Even before the financial calamity manifested itself, Senator McCain’s path to the White House was exceptionally difficult, due in part to the Republican Party’s extremely low approval ratings on foreign policy. Senator Obama’s promises of hope, change and withdrawal from the Iraq War and his pledge to better combat terrorism in Afghanistan resulted in Obama’s winning by the biggest margin in nearly 20 years.

Six years later, the United States is once again confronted with the possibility of military engagement in Iraq, this time to combat the radical Islamic group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The situation leaves President Obama in an extraordinarily difficult position. The president elected to remove the United States from the sanguinary conflict in Iraq is now faced with the prospect of re-inserting America into the heart of a violent civil war.

Setting aside the issue of whether the United States should intervene, the question of whether the United States can intervene must be addressed. The president has the authority under the War Powers Act to take temporary military action against ISIS without Congressional approval, yet this does not provide a blank check for an indefinite amount of time. Eventually, Congress will have to approve additional action. Despite maintaining that there will be no US combat troops deployed, the Obama administration has explicitly stated that the United States is at war with ISIS and that the situation will likely require a long-term commitment. The debate about exact requirements for when Congress must authorize action and what action requires authorization is likely to become a legal quagmire.

However, if the United States is going to become further involved in the Middle East to combat the threat of ISIS – which is imbedded in both Iraq and Syria – seeking Congressional approval is the right course of action. Political considerations must necessarily take a back seat to national security interests. The political stakes are certainly high; executive action against ISIS could have a strong influence on the upcoming US Senate elections. Many vulnerable incumbents would certainly prefer not to have a recorded war vote just a few weeks before the elections.

This is a time for political bravery, not playing politics. The country deserves a spirited debate about what action should be taken in regards to ISIS, and a clearly worded yes-or-no vote in Congress is the only appropriate avenue through which President Obama should seek long-term action against ISIS.
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