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Juan Williams: Congress goes MIA on ISIS

Greg Nash

It is close to a month since the president sent Congress a draft bill that would authorize him to fight the terror group known variously as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS or ISIL.

Congress has failed to vote or even debate it.

The fury of U.S.-led airstrikes and the dangerous work of select American ground forces continue to push against ISIS. Jordan and Egypt have ramped up efforts in response to heads being cut off and bodies being burned by the sadistic cult.

Meanwhile, Congress fails to act.

The American people — after two long, costly wars with questionable results — are calling for action. Last week, a CBS poll found for the first time that a majority of Americans favor sending U.S. ground troops to the Middle East to fight ISIS. That is a big change from last September, when 55 percent of Americans opposed “boots on the ground.”

Meanwhile, Congress fails to act.

{mosads}Last week, federal agents charged three young men with conspiracy to aid ISIS and with intent to “wage violent jihad” in the United States, an effort that would allegedly have included attacks on FBI agents and even an attempt to kill the president.

Meanwhile, Congress fails to act.

There has been nothing close to congressional debate. Instead, senators and members of Congress, specifically Republican hawks, appear on television to condemn the president and call for more action — more bombs, more troops, a more clear strategy for killing the terrorists. But with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, there is no urgent vote on the president’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

The failure to act is astonishing for its lack of logic. Top Republicans say they oppose the proposal because the president is not giving himself enough power to fight the terrorists.

“I have deep concerns about aspects of this proposed authorization, including limitations placed on the constitutional authority of the Commander-in-Chief. … This is a recipe for failure,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

The obvious answer is to give the president the power he is asking for — and more if the votes are there. Even from a partisan GOP perspective, a vote granting the president some authority would put him on the spot to get the job done.

And don’t forget, Congress could have written its own language authorizing the use of force instead of waiting on the president.

The truth is that lawmakers are declining to act out of fear that they will be held responsible by voters if they put their fingerprints on any military effort that leads to another unpopular war. So they huff and puff and bluster, while failing to debate and certainly not voting.

Keep in mind that the United States has aimed more than a thousand airstrikes at ISIS over the last seven months. Any of the American pilots could have been shot down, captured or killed by ISIS anti-aircraft weapons. As of January, the United States and allies have 4,500 troops on the ground in Iraq helping to gather intelligence and train Iraqi forces to fight ISIS.

There is a war going on but Congress pretends otherwise — and refuses to act.

“The president is asking for less authorization than he has today under previous authorizations,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on “Fox News Sunday” eight days ago, by way of explaining why he has not acted on the president’s proposal.

Boehner added that the White House needs a “robust strategy” to defeat ISIS and “no one has seen one … yet.”

But they have seen the draft of a new authorization for military force and ignored it.

In August 2013, Congress put on a similarly disingenuous performance. The Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebels, and war hawks in Congress insisted on U.S. action. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), hardly a hawk, appealed for Obama to take action because of the “humanitarian crisis.”

So, Obama drafted an authorization for using force against Syria. And Congress did not act on it. Finally, a joint U.S.-Russian plan to take chemical weapons away from the Syrian government made congressional action moot.

Now we have the same story of Congress talking tough but again failing to exercise its basic authority to declare war — or in this case even authorize military action for a limited period to defeat ISIS.

At least congressional Democrats have a clear point: they felt suckered by the last authorization. The 2001 and 2002 bills had no expiration date and opened the door to dreary, politically unpopular wars.

“I am insistent that it [the AUMF] needs to be narrowed or clarified or specified so that we are not in effect authorizing open-ended operations,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Obama did not need to send a draft request for added authority to Congress. He has standing to use the open-ended authorization from 2001.

But the president acted, he wrote in a letter to Congress, because “I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to working with Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use of military forces against ISIL.”

Congress’s failure to act is a shameful dereliction of political duty. In military terms, lawmakers are “Missing in Action.”

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags AUMF authorization for use of military force ISIL ISIS Islamic State John Boehner John McCain Richard Blumenthal

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