Editorial: Authorization of force against ISIS in danger


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In previous months, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board has advocated for a new Authorization for Military Force specifically tailored to the fight against ISIS.

This seemed to be in the congressional cards, with the idea gaining widespread bipartisan support. Yet now, it’s in danger. A number of recent showdowns involving the U.S. Congress have redrawn party stances on the issue.

First, Republicans have deliberately stoked tensions with President Obama and congressional Democrats through their recent actions. When Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Israel Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress, it was perceived as a snub to Obama, and many Democrats chose to sit out on the event.

Then, a group of 47 Republican senators sent an open letter to Iran’s leaders about the nuclear talks with the United States, saying any agreement could be in danger under a new president in 2016. It’s not an entirely unprecedented move by an opposition party to try to undercut the foreign policy of a sitting president, but the stunt has left a bad taste in the mouths of Democrats, who were previously willing to negotiate for a deal on an authorization of force against ISIS.

The latest indication from Congress on President Obama’s formal request for an authorization is that Democrats think it goes too far (risking embroiling the United States once more in an unwinnable conflict in the Middle East), and Republicans think it doesn’t go far enough to stop the threat of the terrorist group.

Regardless of where one stands on this issue, it is clear that disagreements over policy are not the only thing holding Congress back. Previous interactions between these two parties have poisoned the well of good faith, and neither seems willing to give any ground for the sake of negotiation.

If Congress is unable to move on this authorization, the president nonetheless will act on his own. Obama believes he has legal precedent to utilize a 2001 authorization against Al Qaeda and one in 2002 authorizing war in Iraq for the current conflict with ISIS. As his previous executive actions on immigration and the use of force against other groups have shown, Obama will not be hesitant to go this route.

Congress knows this. Yet, neither side is currently willing to budge on its agenda, leading to a stalemate with the president as the only winning party.

Critics may say this shows that an authorization really isn’t necessary. However, it is important to demonstrate that the elected representatives of this country are all behind this action.

Washington is already perceived around the world as fractious and divided. In response to the Senate Republicans’ Iran letter, Germany’s foreign minister (who is involved in the talks with Iran) said American domestic politics were affecting the negotiations. And Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said it was a “sign of the decay of political ethics in the American system.”

These are indications of a lack of confidence in Congress’ ability to operate. For the sake of America’s international standing, we hope Congress can prove critics wrong by passing an authorization of force against a common enemy.

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