Thursday, March 19, 2015

Congress Has Abdicated Its Role on Foreign Policy

I have to admit to a fair amount of eye-rolling when liberals insisted that Congress get involved in approving a new Authorization For the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS or when they take a stand against fast-tracking trade authority on things like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Of course I have the same reaction to conservatives who insist that Congress weigh in if/when a deal is negotiated on Iran's nuclear program.

In a world where Congress can actually function, those demands would make sense. Unfortunately, that's not the world we currently live in. Case in point: the ISIS AUMF.
More than a month after the White House sought Congress’ blessing for the expanding war against the terrorist group, congressional action has gotten bogged down in partisan rancor and divergent viewpoints over what the war should try to accomplish, how long the administration should be authorized to wage it, and what level of force will be required. Some say that the liberals who insisted the White House include extra conditions, such as a deadline and limits on ground troops, overplayed their hand, undercutting potential Republican support.

“I just don’t hear many people standing up for what the president has proposed, so I think we’re kind of moving beyond that,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), told reporters Wednesday.
Neither side gets a pass here. The Republicans insisted that President Obama's proposal wasn't "tough enough." But Thronberry is right - a lot of Democrats didn't like it either. As Steve Benen put it:
...some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough.
I don't mean to suggest that I take this lightly, but the first thing I thought of when I read that was the story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Essentially what we have is a group of people playing small-ball with their ideologies and special interests. And its nothing but a food fight. Meanwhile, someone has to be an adult and take charge. That task has been left to President Obama.

Over the long term, that's a pretty big problem for our democracy. But right now I don't see a reasonable alternative.


  1. My gut reaction is that the President just threw a bone in amongst the dogs to fight over while he goes about executing his plans unhindered. They're all so busy in-fighting that they aren't paying the least bit of attention to the actions being taken day-to-day.

  2. People seem to have forgotten that he first acted against ISIS to prevent a genocide of Yazidis. There is no way Congress could act fast enough for that. Now most seem to be arguing that he does't have a strategy. When I think they really mean his strategy is too complicated. It is a combination of air support from us and partners with local ground troops. That is accompanied by lots and lots of diplomacy that is largely hidden from us. The one open requirement is Sunni inclusion in Iraq. And mostly people don't see how that is possible. I think if anyone can do the diplomacy President Obama can. Syria is even harder to see what will work when there is Assad/Russia, Hazzbal/Iran, Al Qaeda, and other anti Assad forces. He may need the Iranian deal done before this can be worked out. Or maybe he's got it figured out. It seems he worked for a year with the Russians on the Syrian chemical weapons deal before "Putin suddenly came to his rescue ". I don't see how congress even an oversight committee can be trusted with this kind of negotiations because they are pulling in so many directions and trying to make their points publically.

    Maybe it has to be this way and we need to find a new way for congressional input. I'm tempted to start a petition for leaking Congessmen on foreign policy must be put in the stocks for an hour a day for a month.

    But perhaps it has always been this way. Until Perl harbor there not only wasn't a consensus about going into the war there were even those who thought we should go to war on the other side.

    I think with our treaties (UN, NATO, etc.) the president has a lot more power when working with those bodies. I don't know how that works with the war powers act. It could be that the President's request was the right one and that congress shouldn't get so hung up on just the right size but expect the president to come back frequently for adjustments. That might be impossible to sell to our current congress.