Kentucky Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul wants to declare a war, but he does not want to win it.
Paul says that when Congress comes back into session in December he will “introduce a resolution to declare war against ISIS,” the barbaric terror group also known as ISIL or Islamic State that occupies large parts of Iraq and Syria. Current U. S. military action against ISIS is, Paul says, “illegal until Congress acts pursuant to the Constitution and authorizes it.”
But the authorization portion of Paul's resolution says nothing about winning the war he proposes to declare, however. It provides only:
“The President is hereby authorized and directed to use the Armed Forces of the United States to protect the people and facilities of the United States in Iraq and Syria against the threats posed thereto by the organization referring to itself as the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).”
Prior American declarations of war contained language like this: “the President be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war against the Imperial German Government; and to bring the conflict to a successful termination all the resources of the country are hereby pledged by the Congress of the United States.”
Thus, Paul wants to wage a purely defensive war. His resolution, which would expire in a year, does not even contemplate, much less expressly provide for, actually defeating the enemy or bringing the conflict to a successful termination.
Initially, Paul had said that if he was president he would “call a joint session of Congress, lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security, and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.” So the senator started with an objective of destroying ISIS militarily.
Paul thus willed the end of ISIS's military destruction, but he never set forth the means by which he would achieve it. Then, in his big foreign policy speech in late October, Paul reversed course and admitted that he does not believe the U. S. can or should try to defeat ISIS, at least not in the short term.
He said, “Although I support the call for defeating and destroying ISIS, I doubt that a decisive victory is possible in the short term, even with the participation of the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and other moderate Arab states.” Paul therefore found himself in the curious position of supporting the call to defeat and destroy ISIS, but not actually believing that it could be done.
His proposed declaration of war would formalize his doubts and commit American to a war it cannot and will not try to win. Instead of allaying concerns in the Republican nominating electorate about his foreign policy and national security views, Paul is compounding them.
To satisfy his constitutional concerns Paul could have pushed for a mere congressional authorization for the use of force against ISIS. Instead, he insists on an actual declaration of war – a step previously reserved for military action intended to actually defeat a nation state.
The U. S. has formally declared war only five times in its history: the War of 1812; the Mexican War; the Spanish-American War; World War I; and World War II. Some of these declarations had multiple enemies, but all have been against nation states and had an objective of victory. But Paul now seeks a formal declaration of war against a non-state enemy he does not think America can defeat or destroy.
Somewhat surprisingly given its limited objectives that do not include victory, Paul's war resolution permits the use of “ground combat forces” to protect or rescue U. S. forces from imminent danger from ISIS, “for limited operations against high value targets,” and “as necessary for advisory and intelligence gathering operations.” So Paul is apparently alright with using U. S. ground forces for almost anything but actually defeating and destroying ISIS.
Paul calls his ever-evolving views “common sense conservative realism of strength and action.” A better name for it might be “theoretical libertarian idealism of confusion and contradiction.”
One cannot help but conclude that Paul's actual belief is that America has no national security interest at all in doing battle with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. If so, he would have been better off sticking to that position instead of contorting himself to appease more hawkish Republican primary voters.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.