Editorial: Grant Obama's war powers request

The Detroit News

President Barack Obama's request for broader war powers might get a better reception from Congress if the president appeared less ambivalent about the war against the Islamic State and other extremists.

Obama is asking Congress for authority to dispatch ground troops, but with strict limitations, and wants to remove any geographic boundaries for the fight.

As one report noted, the request has managed to unite Congress — both Republicans and Democrats hate it.

Liberals, joined by libertarian Republicans, object that the authorization will lock the United States into another ill-defined and lengthy conflict after nearly 15 years of engagement in the region that has produced little lasting results.

Conservatives see the request as having the potential to do more harm than good because it telegraphs to the enemy the limited scope of the United States' willingness to respond.

That concern is legitimate. America has seen the consequences of going half-heartedly into war. And the president does not seem to be convinced himself that an expanded military campaign is appropriate.

This week, he publicly questioned the effectiveness of a war with the Islamic State and other extremists, musing instead that creating economic opportunities in the region would better deter terrorist recruiting. It was a bizarre position for a president who is asking Congress for more power to make war.

The twisted ideology and savage lust for power that drives the Islamic State is not likely to be destroyed through job fairs. Nor is it helpful that the administration is schizophrenic about its objective. Even after Obama asked for broader war powers, his attorney general, Eric Holder, declared the United States was not at war — a statement he later withdrew.

Obama is right that if the Islamic State is to be vanquished — the mission he took on last fall — the United States may have to do more than drop bombs and provide cover for other combatants. It may have to dispatch its own troops.

But the president wants to limit those troops to very narrow missions, including taking out Islamic State leaders. His request specifically rules out using ground troops to launch offensive strikes.

That must be of great comfort to the Islamic State. But it's no way to fight a war.

Critics of the request are correct that it would carry more weight if it were not self-limiting, and that Obama should not restrict his options against such an unpredictable enemy.

Despite the White House's assurances that the Islamic State proposes no existential threat to the United States, it is spreading and growing stronger. And getting more barbaric. Libya is on the verge of falling under the militants' control, and the outcome in Iraq remains in doubt.

Both Jordan and Egypt have awakened to the fight after seeing their citizens butchered. But they and other nations for whom the Islamic State does pose a threat to their stability need more assistance and leadership from the United States.

Congress should expand Obama's war powers. But first the president should make a much stronger case that he not only understands who the enemies are, but also has the will to defeat them.