Although the president failed to plow any new policy ground in his speech Sunday, he did offer one useful suggestion for ensuring that U.S. military action against the Islamic State is actually legal under the Constitution.

For all of its tough talk, Congress never actually authorized the use of military force against the Islamic State. And yet Congress has sole power to approve the sort of long-term military effort that has unfolded in Syria.

Obama announced plans to "degrade and ultimately destroy" the Islamic State more than a year ago, and has been waging war against it ever since with airstrikes and other measures, including the dispatch of special forces. However, he is doing so under the absurd rationale that Congress gave him authority in 2001 when it approved war against those involved in the 9/11 terror attacks.

But of course the Islamic State didn't exist in 2001.

A move by Congress to authorize military action would be more than symbolic. Congressional control over war and peace is a fundamental check on the ability of a single individual to commit the nation to a bloody and ill-advised foreign adventure. The Founders were right to be wary of executive privilege regarding war.

Ideally, Congress would authorize military force while also limiting the president's ability to deploy significant numbers of ground troops. But since Republicans, who control the House and Senate, disagree among themselves over the wisdom of sending more ground troops against the Islamic State, any use-of-force measure is likely to be open-ended. But an open-ended measure is better than none.


Admittedly, Obama does not exactly inspire confidence when it comes to fighting the Islamic State. Over the years, he has repeatedly underestimated the strength of jihadists, insisting they were "on the run" and on the brink of collapse.

Those judgments were wrong.

Nevertheless, the president's basic strategy of air strikes and support for groups fighting the Islamic State is a reasonable approach to a complex challenge for which there is no easy solution. And it's time that Congress authorized action.

— The Denver Post