The PJ Tatler

Rand Paul Declares that Obama's War Against ISIS is 'Illegal'

Writing in the Daily Beast, Sen. Rand Paul lands on a new position on the war against ISIS.

It’s the right war, but being done by Obama in the wrong way, rendering it illegal.

The Constitution, Paul correctly writes, puts the power to declare war not with presidents but with Congress.

Congress has not actually declared war on anyone since World War II. Since then US forces have been engaged in conflicts from Korea to Vietnam to the Middle East to Central America and Europe, but not once has it actually declared war. The closest that we have gotten to a full declaration of war is probably the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Saddam Hussein.

Obama has engaged US forces in Libya and now Iraq without bothering to take it to Congress, before or after the limits imposed by the War Powers Act. That, plus Paul’s contention that the US is not under attack by ISIS, is where Paul says the problem is.

In a war with transnational terrorists on the other side, though, when are we under attack and when are we not? It’s not as cut and dried as a group of terrorists crossing the porous border and wreaking havoc. They’re not going to roll across the border in an armored column and they’re not going to launch sorties of bombers over our cities. That’s not how it works. ISIS has beheaded two Americans and has shown that it can recruit other Americans to its cause using social media. It is building a base from which it says it intends to strike us.

Paul writes:

If the Constitution were not enough, the War Powers Act reiterates the legislature’s prerogative. The War Powers Act does not allow for any military action to take place that is not authorized by Congress or to repel imminent attack. Period. The only exception is military action to repel an imminent attack. In that case, the president has 60 days to report to Congress. Obviously, it’s an exception that doesn’t apply to any of our current wars.

This administration has allowed, as Professor Michael J. Glennon writes, “nothing less than a collapse of the equilibrium of power, the balance expected to result from ambition set against ambition, the resistance to encroachment that was supposed to keep the three branches of the federal government in a state of equilibrium and to protect the people from the government.”

It’s time for conservatives to say enough is enough. Obama’s commandeering of Congress’s powers—from making war, to remaking our health-care system—has to stop. There needs to be an across-the-board, consistent defense of the constitutional separation of powers. Nothing less will win the day. That should include this current battle in the Middle East. Taking military action against ISIS is justified. The president acting without Congress is not.

On this question, Sen. Paul is probably right. He gets there in a strange way though, decrying the unlimited geographical scope and timeline of fighting terrorism.

That’s not the choice of any American leader. 9-11, London, Madrid, Fort Hood, Boston, beheading Americans in what used to be Syrian territory…how many times do terrorists have to attack us on our own soil and our allies’ soil and elsewhere before the likes of Rand Paul figure out that the enemy isn’t bound by any of our norms, notions or ideas about anything? We hold ourselves to the Geneva Conventions regarding how we treat terror masterminds while they kidnap schoolgirls, behead reporters and sell Christian women into sex slavery — and tweet images of themselves flying their flag right outside the White House.

It would be nice to put some geographical and time limits on this war. The enemy won’t abide by any limits, though.

This is Paul’s third or fourth position on what to do about ISIS. He mused that there may be no solution (May) has had mixed feelings while taking a dovish posture (August) and in September allowed that he was coming around to a more hawkish stance. At that time, he quoted Reagan and wrote that he would have acted “more decisively and strongly against ISIS” than Obama has.

Which wouldn’t be all that difficult. Obama has trickled troops in while signaling ISIS that while they have to duck US air power they will never have to face the true might of the American military on the ground. Obama isn’t even drawing fake red lines. The president is slow-rolling America into fighting ISIS in a way that is hauntingly similar to the way US forces were slow-rolled into the war in Vietnam.

Paul’s own stances don’t really bear out the claim that he would have been more decisive than Obama. He just probably would not have been any less decisive.

That’s not much to put on the resume for someone who wants to be commander-in-chief.