Congress should move swiftly to give President Barack Obama the legal backing to wage war on the Islamic State. It would be a bipartisan win both for national s

Last week, Obama sent Congress a proposed authorization for the use of military force resolution to support the continuing coalition effort against the Islamic State, or ISIL.Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led mission against ISIL, has been under way since June 2014. The legal backing for the operation is the resolution passed three days after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that authorized the president to "use all necessary and appropriate force" against organizations that "planned, authorized, committed or aided the [9/11] terrorist attacks." This authorization was open-ended, and along with the 2002 resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, has been the justification for most of the efforts in the global war on terrorism.ecurity and the rule of law.

However, much has changed since 2001. We have moved from the first year of the George W. Bush administration to the final years of Obama's. Osama bin Laden is dead and much of the original al-Qaeda organization has been destroyed. ISIL is nominally an al-Qaeda splinter group, but none of its leadership had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. And only 26 senators in the current Congress were serving when the 2001 force resolution was approved. It is clearly time to revisit the issue.

Polls in the fall of 2014 by CBS News and USA TODAY showed public backing for a new use of force authorization by 2-to-1 margins. And the proposal has bipartisan support in otherwise sharply divided Washington. Sen. Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that "voting to authorize the use of military force is one of the most important actions Congress can take," and promised to schedule hearings soon.

There are disagreements on the details, such as what type of force will be authorized, its geographical limits and when the resolution will sunset. The debate could expose fracture lines in both parties. While the majority of Republicans and Democrats will likely approve a measure looking much like what Obama has proposed, there is expected to be a degree of opposition. Non-interventionists in the Republican camp, such as Sen. Rand Paul, either oppose authorization or want stricter limits on the executive powers Congress will endorse. Left wing anti-war Democrats will have an opportunity to vote their conscience knowing Obama will still get the authorization he seeks. The big winner here will likely be Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who will have an opportunity to contrast herself with potential presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of both the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations.

The authorization debate will allow for a healthy airing of views on the terrorist threat and the need for the United States to remain engaged in the struggle. It will also reconfirm the principle that whenever U.S. troops are being sent into harms way, there must be a legal basis derived from the constitutionally established shared powers between the executive and legislative branches. Perhaps this debate can serve as an example for other desperately needed bipartisan efforts between the White House and Capitol Hill. And it will send a message to the terrorists that Americans are still united in their determination to stamp them out.


James S. Robbins writes weekly for USA TODAY and is author of The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero.

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