Host 1: President Obama is asking Congress to give him the power to take military action in the Middle East. He is seeking approval to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS.
Host 2: But it seems like Congress doesn’t want to grant these war powers to the President. Gregoire Molle explores what are the long-term worries of a decision that needs to be taken soon.
If you’re looking for people who support an American intervention in the Middle East, you would have found some at the Central Unitarian Church, in Paramus, New Jersey.
[AMBI: Indistinct chatter, children talking, laughter] Fade in under narration]
Around fifty Kurdish Americans are putting brownies and salads on tables, as they celebrate the end of a three-day religious fast.
Three people are playing traditional Kurdish music.
[AMBI: Trio playing music – Fade in under narration]
The Kurds are an ethnic group in the Middle East. They live in an area stretching from Turkey to Iraq. They are at the forefront of the fight against ISIS fighters, who are mostly in Iraq and Syria. The Kurds have been long-time allies of the US in the Middle East.
[Fade out the music, fade in the indistinct chatter]
Yuksel Serindag left Turkey in 1989, but he says he still visits his relatives there every couple of years.
He says Kurdish forces can defeat ISIS, but they are at a disadvantage.
SERINDAG: When they invaded Iraq last year, ISIS caught a lot of American modern hardware that the Americans left behind in Iraq. […] The Kurds need technical help, military help.
Serindag says the threat of ISIS goes beyond any border.
SERINDAG: It’s not a Kurdish fight alone; it’s an international war.
That’s the position President Obama took in his State of the Union, last month.
OBAMA: Tonight I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority.
But one month later, Congress still hasn’t granted Obama the war powers.
Ilan Berman is the Vice President at the American Foreign Policy Council. He says the lack of an answer from Congress is understandable: what the President is asking for is not clear. The President says he doesn’t want to send troops in, but he doesn’t clearly say what kind of intervention he wants to lead.
BERMAN: A lot of the pushback that you’re seeing now from conservative members of Congress has to do with poorly defined objectives; a failure to define what victory would look like.
A military intervention in the Middle East less than two months after American troops officially left Afghanistan: that’s not an easy move.
BERMAN: You see an administration that is very hesitant to get more deeply involved in the Middle East. It wants a broad authorization so it can figure out what to do later rather than coming with a plan for victory now.
For lawmakers, this sort of kicking the can down the road goes back to 2001. After the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush asked for a broadly defined use of military force against Al Qaeda and its allies.
LEE: I was the only one who voted against because I didn’t want to see what happened happen.
That’s Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee from, California. She’s been trying to rein in the 2001 authorization since it was issued. So, she says if President Obama wants to act now, he must close one door before he opens another.
LEE: Otherwise the components of this new authorization and any authorization that comes after are null and void, because you still have blank check to use force and to go to war.
In the way it is now presented, the new authorization seems broader than the one President Bush proposed in 2001. That’s according to Ryan Goodman who teaches law at NYU.
GOODMAN: In 2001, the language was simply that the President would be authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force, and what the President submitted last week to Congress, said instead what the president determines to be necessary and appropriate force.
Being authorized by the Congress versus the president himself determining what’s necessary: It seems like a minor difference, but Goodman says it’s significant. In the 2001 authorization, Congress used international law as the yardstick to decide the use of force.
GOODMAN: But if it says the president determines, it might mean well whatever the President determines is international law.
For Goodman, resetting international law is beyond the scope of the President’s office. And a military authorization decided in a rush could have unforeseeable consequences in the long run, when it’s applied to future conflicts.
Gregoire Molle, Columbia Radio News.