Congress signed off on President Obama’s plan for an air war against the Islamic State, both in Iraq and in Syria. The war authorization was attached to a budget bill, and it passed both the House and the Senate on a bi-partisan vote with virtually no debate.
The last two times we entered a war in Iraq, Congress held extensive hearings and debates. But not this time.
Before the U.S. military attacked Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1991, Congress spent months considering its approval of the war. Twelve years later, another attack on Iraq came after three weeks of debate and intensive negotiations.
But this week, the House and Senate each took only a few hours to sign off on President Obama’s plan to once again deploy the military in the Middle East, approving it as part of a broader budget bill before bounding out of town for a two-month recess and hitting the midterm campaign trail.
Some on Capitol Hill were stunned by the seeming congressional disinterest on a matter of such importance. Now, lawmakers in both parties are asking an uncomfortable question: Has Congress forfeited its rightful role in the most solemn of all national decisions?
But we haven’t “declared” war since World War II, though we’ve fought quite a few of them, avoiding the terminology and thus side-stepping the Constitutional requirements.
Presidents have taken us to war, with Congress being either ignored or serving as a rubber stamp. More recently, Congress has been given a role in having to authorize combat operations , including within a given time period once the president has initiated hostilities.
So is this latest rubber-stamping an abdication of the role Congress is supposed to have, wherein the people through their representatives make the decision to go to war? Or is modern warfare such that the Constitutional ways “don’t work” anymore? Should we follow the Constitution or change it?