For months, Rand Paul has been trying to shake claims that he is an isolationist like his father. His recent op-ed “I Am Not an Isolationist” didn’t do the trick, so this weekend the Kentucky senator told the New York Times that he wants to formally declare war against ISIS. The president will soon ask Congress for authorization to fight the terrorist group, though that effort is already well underway. “War cannot be initiated without Congress,” Paul said, arguing that conservatives should be more upset about that unilateral action by Obama. “Conservatives are mad at him about immigration. And they’re mad about him using executive authority on Obamacare,” he said. “But this is another example where he doesn’t have much respect for Congress, and some conservatives don’t quite get that.”
The Obama administration claims it was legal to take action against ISIS under the authorization for use of military force passed after 9/11, and the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War. Paul’s proposal would repeal the 2002 authorization and keep the 2001 authorization, but limit the military action against ISIS to just one year. He would also restrict the use of ground troops to specific circumstances, like killing high-profile targets.
Congress has not declared war since World War II, relying instead on authorizations for the use of force. As the Congressional Research Service explains, the former would automatically give the president broad wartime powers, while the latter would not. Paul probably won’t get Congress to ignore the precedents for authorizing military action set over the past 70 years, but “declaring war” on ISIS is definitely more attention-grabbing.