Last Wednesday night, students from throughout the First Congressional District gathered in a Mobile auditorium to learn details about attending one of the five United States Service Academies. My staff and I were hosting an “Academy Night” for prospective students to hear directly from representatives of the service academies.
At a time when the United States is preparing to take on more responsibilities against the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Middle East, these students want to serve their country. As their Member of Congress, it is my duty to make sure our military men and women have the strategic goals and resources they need to defeat our enemy.
Make no mistake about it, ISIL poses a very real threat to American interests abroad and to our security in the homeland. ISIL is a large and growing terrorist army, larger than al Qaeda is or ever was, and ISIL controls a land area between Damascus and Baghdad, which contains 20 million stateless Muslims. They are well-funded, shrewd tacticians who have shown a successful audacity in the scope of their attacks. They are the most brutal terrorist organization we have ever seen.
When I recently had the chance to question Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during a House Armed Services Committee hearing about the ongoing war against ISIL, I offered two pieces of advice for President Obama and his team.
First, the President needs to lay out for the Congress and the American people a clear and complete strategy for the effective defeat of ISIL. I don’t think he has done that yet. Training and arming a relatively small group of Syrian rebels and cooperating with an Iraqi army which has so far shown a failure to fight do not comprise, in and of themselves, a strategy.
The strategy must include support from other Arab allies in the region. I was pleased to see Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar join the United States in launching airstrikes in Syria, and it is that type of regional partnership that must be included in the President’s strategy.
Second, based on this strategy, the President needs to come back to the Congress and ask us for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The President and Secretary Hagel have both called this a long term war, and they are right in doing so. Under Article 1, Section 8, of our Constitution, only the Congress has the power to declare war.
I disagree with the President and his advisors that they have Congressional authorization to proceed under the previous AUMFs passed authorizing US combat against al Qaeda and the Taliban in 2001, and authorizing the invasion of Iraq in 2002. I am just a journeyman lawyer, but I agree with legal experts from around the nation who have criticized the Administration’s position as a matter of law.
If the President outlines a clear strategy and receives official authorization from Congress, I think he will earn the trust and support of the American people. We must stop ISIL now, before they grow bigger and stronger. But to do so, we need a strategy, something we don’t yet have.
The young men and women I met Wednesday night understand how dangerous and brutal ISIL is, but that hasn’t stopped them from wanting to serve our nation. These young people and the countless military members who currently serve our nation deserve a clear strategy and Congressional support to effectively do their job. I am ready to do my part, and I hope President Obama will do the same.
Bradley Byrne represents Alabama First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Follow him on Twitter @RepByrne