Republicans Should Pass an AUMF or Stop Complaining

Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., speaks at a news conference following a House GOP meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, on Capitol Hill i
Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., speaks at a news conference following a House GOP meeting, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Ryan told GOP lawmakers that he will run for speaker, but only if they embrace him by week's end as their consensus candidate, an ambitious bid to impose unity on a disordered and divided House. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Republicans are currently in a frenzy over Syria. This frenzy spread quickly across the entire party -- governors, members of Congress and (of course) presidential candidates. But for all their noise, I notice there is not a single voice crying out to actually change anything in the most concrete way they have at their disposal. Republicans hold both houses of Congress. They are fully able (but, obviously, not fully capable) to pass an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) bill which would direct President Obama on how to wage war with the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. So the answer to any wild plan any Republican proposes (and, already, there are too many of these to list) on what to do about the Islamic State or Syria has to be: "Well then, why don't you write up an AUMF with that idea and put it on the president's desk?"

Mostly, Republicans just want to whine that Obama's not doing a good enough job. Or he's not talking tough enough. Or he's not using pet Republican phrases when he does talk. Or that 3-year-olds are a terror threat. Or whatever (again, the list of complaints is too long to fully document here).

For each of these complaints, however, there's the same easy answer: Put it in an AUMF, and get it passed through Congress. Think you can run the war better? Then lay it out in a document. Write your own war plan. Set out goals and ways to achieve those goals. And put the idea before Congress and before the public. Republicans don't really want to do this, because they know (1) that things could go very wrong with any war plan, and (2) that they really don't have much of any answer that is better than what Obama's already doing.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post zeroes in on the fact that Republicans have no real plan, just a lot of clichés:

So would the GOP leadership consider something that would be a major change in strategy: U.S. combat troops on the ground?

"I do not think any option should be taken off the table," [Paul] Ryan said. "I think all options should be placed upon the table."

One option not on the table, apparently: coming up with an idea of what to do to beat Islamic State. Obviously President Obama's strategy -- whatever it is -- doesn't seem to be doing the job. But the only thing the opposition seems to agree on is that he should do something else that works better -- preferably something that leaves us shoulder to shoulder on the path forward, putting all options on the table as we root them out with courage and resolve.

Cliché is a substitute for rigorous thinking, and the legislature has not been doing a lot of that. Obama sent Congress a draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force in February, and nothing happened. Similarly, Congress did nothing in 2013 when Obama dumped on lawmakers the decision about whether to attack Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria for using chemical weapons.

Republicans in Congress aren't the only ones with no clue what to do (beyond offer up clichés). Ben Carson just wrote an op-ed for the Post explaining his Syria war strategy that is downright incomprehensible. Don't believe me? Try reading it.

Almost all of the presidential candidates on the Republican side keep coming up with brilliant ideas -- to do things that Obama is already doing. They are doing nothing more than restating Obama's war plan, in essence. They all say they'd do a better job of it, and criticisms about the effectiveness do indeed have a point. But none of them really have anything new to propose that would radically change the battlefield in any meaningful way.

There is, astonishingly, no widespread call from the Republicans for large numbers of American troops on the ground. I say "astonishingly" because in years past Republicans have always been for more troops, pretty much at the drop of a hat. Now, Lindsey Graham seems to be the only one calling for large numbers of American troops in Iraq and Syria.

This reluctance to vastly expand the war against the Islamic State is precisely the reason why Republicans in Congress aren't calling for a new AUMF bill. Nothing was stopping them from passing one when Obama first acted in Syria. He even (as Milbank pointed out) asked them for a new AUMF in February. Nothing has stopped Republicans from passing any AUMF at any point in the meantime. And yet they still haven't even discussed it, much less proposed an actual war plan.

Republicans seem to not be interested in taking any ownership for this war in any way. They'd apparently much rather just whine that Obama's doing it all wrong. This is truly an abdication of duty, in the face of the enemy.

We have four sitting senators on the Republican side running for president. So why don't Macro Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham or Rand Paul introduce a draft AUMF to explain precisely what should be done? They're running for the job of commander-in-chief, after all. By not laying out their war plan now, they are in essence saying that it won't matter what happens in Syria or Iraq until January of 2017, when they're sworn into office. That is, again, an abdication of responsibility, for over a year's time.

There is nothing stopping Congress from acting. There is nothing stopping any Republican in Congress from starting a groundswell of public support for a new war plan. Think Obama's bungled things? OK, then what would you do? Where's your plan?

Until such a movement begins on the Republican side, they have lost all credibility on complaining about the way the war's being waged. To me, they've forfeited their right to complain altogether. If you won't offer your own plan, then all you're doing is putting the whole thing on Obama's shoulders; and if that's the case, then you've already had your chance to have your say.

Obama wants Congress to get involved. He asked them to do so in February. They ignored him. They refused to come up with their own plan. They refused to go on record stating whether a no-fly zone was the way to go, or tens of thousands of American soldiers on the ground, or any other possible military strategy. They simply do not have the courage of their own convictions.

So the next time a journalist interviews any Republican (or Democrat, for that matter) who is critical of the way Obama's handling Syria, I'd love to hear the followup question: "So why don't you put that idea into an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, pass it through Congress and put it on the president's desk?" Because if they can't answer that basic question, the rest of what they have to say is nothing more than grandstanding for political gain.


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