Airing Out the ISIL Debate

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WASHINGTON — President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to facilitate combating the terrorist group known as ISIL has caused an uproar across the American political spectrum. While different sides of the political aisle nitpick over the language of the draft, arguing either that the document could lead to yet another seemingly endless war or that that it unnecessarily constrains America’s military options, the heart of the question is more straightforward: to what extent should the U.S. be militarily involved at all? Obama’s AUMF rightly aims to open this debate to the American public in a meaningful way, a process which was conspicuously overlooked in America’s most recent military engagements. The upcoming discussions and negotiations on the final content of the AUMF will delineate the limits of American involvement in the conflict with ISIL with much-needed transparency.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the dangers of American military adventurism and strategic shortsightedness. As a result, the American public, including many lawmakers and policymakers, are wary of committing U.S. resources and personnel towards fighting in foreign conflicts when there are few apparent tangible benefits. The U.S. continues to reel from the financial and psychological burden of its most recent engagements. On the other hand, the ISIL problem has continued to grow in the power vacuum created by the Syrian Civil War and the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq. Regional powers have been either unable or unwilling to contain or eliminate the threat (or, more likely, a combination of both). Areas controlled by ISIL are quickly being turned into breeding grounds for indiscriminate terrorism and anti-American militancy.

The U.S. remains the most efficient and effective military power in the region capable of defeating ISIL. But that does not mean that the U.S. has to become intimately involved in the front lines of the battle. The U.S. should seek simply to alter the balance of conflict against ISIL, much like it did against the Gaddafi regime in Libya. Jordan and Egypt have already demonstrated their seriousness in combatting ISIL after being publicly confronted by the group. The U.S. can and should play an important role in coordinating and supporting the efforts of regional states united against ISIL, a role that will only be successful with a moderate commitment of U.S. engagement and resources.

The text of the draft AUMF Obama submitted to Congress appears to be intentionally vague, an astute political move on the President’s part. In the face of Congressional intransigence, Obama is forcing the legislature to accept partial responsibility for unwanted—but necessary—military commitment to a conflict that will most likely outlast his term. The debate in Congress and in the media is likely to be bitter, hard-fought, and frustrating for all involved. The outcome is guaranteed to dissatisfy a significant portion of the American public. But for the first time in recent memory, it seems that a meaningful debate will take place. And this is a step in the right direction.

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