A Standoff of Agreement Over an ISIS AUMF

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, September 30, 2014, 8:46 AM

You know that the political system has reached a moment of special paralysis when a standoff emerges out of agreement. Yet that is what appears to be happening with respect to the politics of authorizing force against ISIS. Over the weekend, the Sunday talk shows featured interviews with both White House officials and the senior House leadership. Both declared an interest in having Congress weigh in on the operation, and both also insisted that the other take the lead.

Here's Tony Blinken, deputy national security adviser on Fox News Sunday: "We think what would be very helpful is if . . . Congress worked to give us a targeted, focused authorization. But while we welcome that, we don't need it."

And here's House Speaker John Boehner on ABC's This Week: "The President, typically in a situation like this, would call for an authorization vote and go sell that to the American people [and] send a resolution to the Hill. The President hasn't done that. He believes he has the authority under existing resolutions to do what he's doing. [And] I think he does have the authority to do it. But the point I've been making is that this is a proposal that the Congress ought to consider."
In other words, both sides agree (1) that the President has the authority to go it alone, but that (2) he shouldn't go it alone and that (3) Congress should vote on an authorization resolution instead. The reason such a vote is not taking place boils down to a kind of grade school, "you first, no you first" dispute, in which both sides welcome the other to assume whatever political risk the endeavor may involve. I'm sorry if the plight of neither side moves me much. We're asking people to take risks with their lives in flying these missions and, in the case of U.S. allied forces, by operating on the ground. We're asking allied governments to take U.S. leadership seriously here. It doesn't seem like it's asking too much of our political leadership in that context to do what everyone, in fact, agrees should be done.