Fool me twice on Iraq …

How quickly things change. Just a few short months ago, even Hillary Clinton was admitting that her vote in favor of the Iraq War was a mistake. Now, Congress may be about to repeat it.

In a well-intentioned call for Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibilities, Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have petitioned Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to schedule a debate and vote on authorizing U.S. combat operations in Iraq. Given that the White House has not yet formally requested authorization for the use of military force, nor laid out a clear strategy for U.S. engagement, quick action only increases the danger that Congress will once again make a reckless decision in haste.

{mosads}Unlike the situation in Iraq just over a decade ago, this time no one is claiming that the intervention is necessary to secure weapons of mass destruction or to make the world safe for democracy, or even to retaliate for an attack against the United States. In fact, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have determined that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) presents no credible threat to U.S. soil. No, this time it’s because … there are really bad, bad people out there.

Let’s imagine for a brief moment that we were able, without a single American casualty, to eliminate every last ISIS fighter. Poof, gone. Does anyone seriously believe that would be the end of it? That there wouldn’t be 10 more, equally brutal, similarly well-equipped groups out there, ready to take their place? We’ve decapitated al Qaeda only to battle al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, al Nusra, and ISIS, to name a few of the latest. The U.S. has officially designated nearly 60 foreign terrorist organizations — half of them after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The number of jihadist organizations and fighters, as well as the number of terrorist attacks and fatalities, have all increased sharply since President Bush first declared a Global War on Terrorism after 9/11.

Unfortunately, neither the lack of evidence that our counterterrorist strategy is working nor the cold, hard realities about likely financial costs and loss of life — U.S. soldiers and foreign civilians alike — is likely to figure into congressional decisions. Their thought process is more likely to go something like this:

“If I vote against military intervention, and there’s another big terrorist attack against the U.S., I will be blamed for it. But if I vote for a military intervention, and it goes badly, I can still blame the president.”

Really, it’s all about the blame game: Who will take a political hit in the next election cycle. What’s new this round is the dynamic between House Republicans, who actually want the president to take unauthorized and unconstitutional action so that they can pursue another round of legal actions against him, and the president, who deep down doesn’t want to go to war at all, yet fears a legacy of failure to respond as the world spins out of control.

When President Obama justified limited air strikes in Iraq as necessary to protect and rescue a small number of Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar, most Americans were willing to go along. But clearly there is little sentiment for another ground war — and it’s just as clear that ISIS and its allies, splinters and rivals cannot be eradicated without boots on the ground.

Since congressional leadership is loathe to take a resolution of such grave importance to the floor without having the votes to pass it, the world would be better off if Boehner ignored the call for congressional authorization of the use of force. It’s the one inaction that a do-nothing Congress could be praised for.

Ohlbaum is an independent consultant, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Project on Prosperity and Development and a principal of Turner4D, a strategic communications firm.

Tags al Qaeda Barbara Lee Iraq Iraq War ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria James McGovern John Boehner Walter Jones
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