Time is now for a new force authorization

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Make no mistake, more American sons and daughters will die in Iraq in the coming months, if not the coming years.

In October, we heard the White House planned to double the number of troops in Iraq, bringing the total to 3,000, despite the president’s own promise not to put U.S. troops “on the ground.” 

{mosads}This announcement came in the midst of airstrikes that are ongoing. And last week, another 250 paratroopers were called up from the 82nd Airborne for service in Iraq. 

Our nation’s use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is becoming a full-fledged military campaign in Iraq. 

We continue to arm and train the allegedly moderate Syrian opposition, and yet we still have no better sense from the White House what the broader mission entails beyond “degrading and defeating” ISIS, nor have we reflected seriously on our problematic history with proxy wars.

I appreciate the intricate process of writing legislation, especially one as complex and massive as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and I sympathize with the unenviable task of reaching a compromise in the conference report. However, buried within the NDAA passed last week, Congress has acceded to the president’s nebulous request of more than $5 billion to combat ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.

Without any rigorous and open debate on the House floor regarding how the $5 billion dollars is going to be spent, how the expenditures fit into the comprehensive, larger strategy in Iraq, or how much more money might be needed to combat ISIS in the coming months or years, it is now an imperative that Congress hears from the president.

Before Congress recesses this Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) must invite the president to come to Congress and outline for all 435 members of the House of Representatives what the U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Syria is. And President Obama, a constitutional law professor, must embrace the necessity of coming to Congress to seek a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

This week, we are days away from another government shutdown, having passed a gargantuan NDAA conceived behind committee doors and written in undisclosed conference reports that funds substantial military action which the majority of Congress has not debated at length and in the open.

It is difficult to fathom the daunting array of foreign policy challenges Obama has had to weather since the start of his administration, challenges which are not the result of any misjudgment on his part. 

Few modern leaders have had to contend with such an assortment of diverse global challenges, and the president deserves immense credit, which he rarely receives, for confronting them judiciously.

I admire this president and appreciate what an unenviable situation he is faced with in Iraq.

The situation in Iraq may be difficult, but that excuse does not merit the president’s overreliance on War Powers and two outdated Authorizations for Use of Military Force.

Obama must come to Congress and explain his strategy for this new campaign in Iraq. Even the last president, who was far less sensible, sought congressional authority. 

It is in the president’s best interest to address not just those “relevant committees” apt to grant him the legal leeway the White House weakly asserts, but all 435 House members who have constitutional authority to send our nation’s sons and daughters to war.

The president must tread carefully going forward, and not just because our recent military history in Iraq is poor, but also because he now faces a Republican-controlled Congress.

Those recklessly clamoring for greater military involvement against ISIS would like nothing more than to blame what could easily become a wider conflict, likely doomed to fail, squarely on Obama.

I trust this president, and I have faith that he will make decisions in the best interest of the American people. 

Let me be clear: It is in the American people’s best interest for the president to ask the people’s representatives for a proper authorization for the use of military force.

Then, Boehner should the lead the debate on such an authorization — a debate at great length and with complete transparency, not behind closed committee doors and in conference reports.

We have wandered down this road in Iraq before, with a far less thoughtful president.

It is time we learn from our mistakes.

McDermott has represented Washington’s 7th Congressional District since 1989. He sits on the Budget, and Ways and Means committees. 

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