On Wednesday, Congress will finally get a chance to take responsibility for its part in the global war against Islamic extremism. Or, to put it another way: On Wednesday, Congress will no longer be able to avoid responsibility for its part in the global war against Islamic extremism.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will question Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the Obama administration’s draft authorization for the latest military effort in the Middle East. The administration’s proposal is generally sound, but Congress can improve on it.
Among the things the White House draft gets right are that it revokes the 2002 authorization for the initial invasion of Iraq; it requires the administration to report to Congress regularly on actions taken under its authority; it gives the president and his military advisers broad flexibility to take on not just Islamic State but also “individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside” Islamic State or its successor; it specifically allows operations in Syria as well as in Iraq and sets no future geographic limits; and it has a firm expiration date of three years.
There are, however, problems with some of the specifics. A shorter sunset provision — 18 months or two years — would be preferable, and the White House should be required to report to the public as well as Congress more often than every six months. Those briefings should include a specific list of every new “associated” group the military targets, and an explanation of why it presents a clear danger.
In addition, the language over the potential use of ground troops is too vague.
Last, the draft lacks a preamble that describes what, exactly, the overall goal is. Until Congress answers those questions, the war against terrorism will remain on shaky ground.