Second Thoughts About a Use of Force Resolution

To hear most Republicans and some Democrats in recent weeks, you’d figure that with public support for stronger military action against IS increasing each time a fresh atrocity emerges, there would be considerable momentum for a congressional use of force resolution, even though the administration clearly has no interest in seeking one.

At the Plum Line today, Paul Waldman explains why talk of an Iraq-style resolution is just that:

Here’s why many members of Congress probably don’t want to take this vote.

If there were a vote, Many would be asking themselves two questions: what do I think is the right thing for us to do now, and how is this vote going to look in a year or two or five? If you vote against the resolution — and military action proceeds anyway and it’s a sweeping success — then you’ll later be criticized as a weakling who didn’t want to combat the barbarism of ISIS. But if you vote for it and we end up getting sucked into another quagmire, you’ll be in the position everyone who voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002 has been in ever since, constantly having to explain and justify your role in setting in motion a foreign policy disaster.

Then there’s the question of exactly what a resolution would say. If it’s too constraining, those who favor a comprehensive military engagement might balk; if it’s too broad, it would be opposed by those who fear an open-ended conflict that keeps ratcheting up.

So the path we’re on now is one that serves everyone’s interest. Without a resolution, President Obama doesn’t have to take the risk of a formal rebuke from Congress. But the White House is sending representatives to brief Congress about the situation, so members can feel (and say) they were consulted. By not casting an up-or-down vote, no member needs to take responsibility for what happens. If the military action is successful, they can say they were behind it all along. If it fails in any way, they can say everything would have been different if only Obama had heeded their counsel (and they can claim that they would have voted against a resolution, had there been one).

This all makes abundant sense, but the reality that a use-of-force resolution ain’t happening may actually increase the temptation for some Republicans to introduce or cosponsor one, the better to attack Obama the Tyrant for failing to fulfill his constitutional obligations. It’ll be if not the first, then probably the second or third thing we hear from the GOP after the president’s speech tomorrow night.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.