Times Argus Editorial: Showing Resolve
Peter Welch is one of several lawmakers behind bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would authorize the use of American military force against the Islamic State.
As sponsors of identical bills, Welch, a Democrat, was joined by Rep. Scott Rigell, a Republican from Virginia, and Sens. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, and Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona.
The bills, introduced Thursday, have added fuel to a debate on Capitol Hill.
The sponsors maintain that under the U.S. Constitution, it is the responsibility of Congress to authorize boots on the ground. “Congress has been absent,” Welch said. Since August 2014, when military action against ISIL began, the United States has delivered more than 8,500 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq at a cost of about $5.2 billion, the congressman said.
“The failure of Congress to do its job is an abdication of its constitutional responsibility,” Welch told reporters.
This latest Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, would authorize the president to take specific, strategic military action and to provide support to our allies and regional partners in the battle to defeat ISIL. Key provisions include a sunset after three years unless reauthorized; a repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF; and a clause that defines this authorization as the sole statutory authority for the war on ISIL.
Those measures — along with a far more expansive and open-ended AUMF proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, earlier this month — are part of the congressional response to the San Bernardino shootings, which has put urgency behind the drive to quash the Islamic State.
President Obama has challenged Congress to come up with an anti-ISIS AUMF during a speech a week ago, when he said that “if Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists.”
Longtime AUMF advocates seized upon that change in tone, if not the administration’s legal argument justifying current hostilities against ISIS, as an important signal to build momentum now for an AUMF.
The United States has thus far justified its campaign against ISIS under the 2001 AUMF that Congress passed to green-light operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The administration and several influential congressional leaders have not backed off of that legal justification — despite Obama’s call to action.
But Welch and other lawmakers promoting an AUMF say it is incumbent on members to create a groundswell of momentum to which leaders would have to respond.
“There’s a little too much focus on the leaders,” Welch said. “The leaders need the member to demonstrate the desire and will to act.”
Since arriving in Washington, D.C., Welch has worked hard to work with fellow Democrats to come up with ways to bring in or join Republicans on key bills. Not only have some of those efforts made gains, Welch has made allies even among extremists in both parties. He has repeatedly been commended for his dogged approaches to bipartisanship.
Unfortunately, lawmakers are far from any consensus.
Many Republicans are wary of an AUMF that would limit a president’s ability to deploy boots on the ground, while many Democrats won’t approve an AUMF without express limits on ground troops.
But what Welch has helped to craft may be the best chance Congress has to get an AUMF in place that sets the parameters for what could prove to be a much longer, much costlier conflict. Because, as we have seen in recent months, the threats of the Islamic State are across the globe.
We agree with the approach, and commend these members of Congress for both coming together and starting the right debate for this time.
Americans must come to understand that bold steps need to be taken. But doing so together, and across the aisle, is the kind of legislation we expect from lawmakers. After all when it comes to fighting for rights and freedoms, we do it best when united.