President Barack Obama announced in February that he was seeking formal authorization of military force against ISIL. This request comes at a time when public opinion on the threat of ISIL is high, but questions of limits on presidential power are still abound.
ISIL, also known as ISIS or Islamic State by its members, have had many defeats in recent weeks.
“We’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause,” said Obama on Feb. 11. “Our coalition is on the offensive, ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose.”
In response to the death of pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh in January, Jordan stepped up air strike attacks against ISIL in Syria. In addition, Kurdish fighters were able to drive ISIL members out of the Syrian town of Kobani after a four-month struggle.
ISIL seeks to be recognized as a legitimate state and power in the Middle East by declaring itself a caliphate, or “an Islamic Government…led by a person considered a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community.”
The last caliphate “came to an end in the 20th century, when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk declared Turkey to be a secular state in 1924 and abolished the Ottoman Empire,” stated a Huffington Post article.
“By announcing the “restoration of the caliphate,” ISIS hopes to place itself as a successor in the line of Islamic rulers of empire,” the article went on to say.
ISIL’s claim has been denounced by many. The International Union of Muslim Scholars stated that “the declaration of the Islamic Caliphate at the hands of the [Islamic] State in Iraq lacks any factual or Shar’ia basis.”
“[A] mere group declaring the Caliphate is insufficient to establish a Caliph,” the union added.
If history is any indication, ISIL will not be sustainable. This can be seen no better than with the group’s ancient analogues.
“The Kharijites were a radical group in the late 600’s that held a lot of the same rhetoric as ISIS. They held themselves to be the true Islam and although they never really formulated a state they did hold certain areas,” said Philip Kledzik, a history instructor at JJC.
ISIS is very similar to this group in that they want to return to early Islam and reject modern developments within the religion. “In theory, they want to go back to the Umayyad Dynasty and beyond,” Kledzik posited, noting that ultimately the Kharajities were not sustainable.
“They would take territory or a city and hold onto it for a while but the greater Islamic empire would come in and re-establish control,” Kledzik said.
When asked about the possibility of ISIL taking over a larger swath of territory, Kledzik responded, “I don’t see ISIS lasting. I can’t foresee all of the well-established countries around it falling.”
Obama’s February announcement sparked debate over the scope of the president’s powers. Obama’s plan set out details that would authorize force against ISIL but only for the next three years. He has stated that it is not a call to war.
“The resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria. It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq,” Obama said in his speech.
The president has said that he does not need the authorization of congress to use force with ISIS. He has underlined a 2001 authorization against Al-Qaeda, as well as a 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq as highlights of his ability to sidestep congress.
However, Obama’s new resolution would repeal the authorization of force in 2002, while setting the three-year limit to this new authorization.
The new limit would leave a new president and congress with options in fighting ISIL after Obama leaves office. This move was explained by the Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
“I think [Obama] wanted to give his successor and successor congress a year to work this through,” Haass said. “Traditionally, one of the reasons presidents have taken issues like this to congress is to some way spread around the responsibility, and take away the argument that it’s simply the executive branch taking [the U.S.] into combat.”
According to a Chicago Tribune article, several leading Democratic lawmakers want more specific restrictions on the use of U.S. forces. These lawmakers have expressed doubt that the measures wouldn’t be used to start another ground war or move in that direction.
The fact that the repeal of the 2002 authorization would still leave the broad 2001 sanction was also highlighted as a problem by Democrats.
Republicans have their share of problems with Obama’s proposed sanctions as well. An Associated Press article specified that Republicans are unhappy that Obama has excluded any long-term commitments of ground forces. Additionally, some Republicans are dissatisfied with the 2002 authorization repeal.
Presidential candidate hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. is more open to the plan.
“Under no circumstances can [ISIL stay]. What we need to be authorizing the president to do is to destroy them and to defeat them, and allow the Commander-in-Chief, both the one we have now and the one who will follow, to put in place the tactics, the military tactics necessary to destroy and defeat ISIL,” Rubio said in a press release.