In The New York Times today, Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman and the Times Editorial Board assert that we're in a legal and constitutional crisis because President Obama seems likely to ramp up military action against ISIS without getting Congress's explicit approval. I understand that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force drawn up right after the 9/11 attacks doesn't really apply to a group that didn't exist in 2001, and that's in conflict with Al Qaeda. I understand that what the president plans to do will take ongoing military action past the deadline imposed by the 1973 War Powers Act.
But America is a failed state now, so I have to confess that I'm struggling to care.
Let me address one objection from the main Times editorial:
By avoiding responsibility, [lawmakers in Congress] allow President Obama free rein to set a dangerous precedent that will last well past this particular military campaign.I don't think that matters. The Bush administration wiped its keister with the Constitution and didn't need any "dangerous precedent" to do so, just an overabundance of unmitigated gall. After that, I have no doubt that the next Republican president -- and quite possibly the next Democratic one -- would ignore our legal framework for war-making even if this followed eight years of Obama respecting every word of the Constitution and the law, even the Congress-declares-war provision that was last properly observed in 1942.
A key issue here is that we have one political party that has deliberately chosen to render America's government unable to function as long as a Democrat sits in the Oval Office. Ackerman says that "leaders of both parties have signaled a willingness to engage in a serious debate" on this matter. Yeah? Really? If Ackerman's definition of "leaders" is "titular leaders," then I think he's missed a few transmissions from Republican Zealot Central. I don't care what John Boehner thinks -- what does Ted Cruz think? Are he and his posse going to demand the repeal of Obamacare and the construction of a Great Wall of the Rio Grande in order to allow a vote on the president's plan?
I'd add that America doesn't really believe in the nation's war-making law in any case. All the talk leading up to the president's speech on Wednesday concerned what Obama would do about ISIS, not what the government as a whole would do. If there's a vote and it fails, Ron Fournier will tell us that Congress has absolutely no responsibility for what happens next, because the president could have won the vote if he'd led harder.
If Republicans in Congress resist voting (see that Jack Kingston quote) and resist working with president, then we have a non-functioning government, and that's the real constitutional crisis.
In the mid-1980s, I worked in what I gradually realized was an irreversibly dysfunctional division of an otherwise solid company. A situation like that prompts two responses: at first you try to do other people's jobs for them, and then eventually you just do your job and wait for the whole thing to collapse (or you don't even bother to do that much). To me, America increasingly feels like that job. These days, the president often seems as if he's moved on to Response #2, but on ISIS he's chosen Response #1.
I'd be in favor of a properly hashed-out, fully constitutional response, but there's no reason to think it's possible. So somebody has to step up.