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Sen. Murphy: US Should Declare War On ISIS

(AP Photo/Osama Sami)

In a speech at the Oval Office on Sunday, days after a couple in San Bernardino, California, killed 14 people in a mass shooting, President Barack Obama spoke out against the terrorist group that the couple had reportedly sympathized with, the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Obama asked Congress to vote on an authorization of military force against that terrorist group:

“If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists. For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it's time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight.”

Obama was revitalizing a call he had made to Congress earlier this year in February. The United States has already been fighting ISIS with airstrikes, training missions, and special operations forces in the region, even though the Congress hasn’t signed an approval for use of military force. While Obama has asked for Congressional approval to fight ISIS, his administration has also maintained that he doesn’t need it: they say he is allowed to fight ISIS without a formal declaration of war from Congress under the same legal authority Congress granted the president to combat terrorism after the September 11 attacks.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy disagrees with the President’s assessment of his own power.

“I don’t think the President has the authority today under the law to wage war on ISIS. Congress has never given him the power to do it,” he said. “But I think we should.”

Murphy has opposed war on ISIS in the past. However, he says since the U.S. has seen the scope of ISIS’ power and is continuing to fight the terrorist group, there should be a democratic conversation about how to do it, so he’s been calling for Congress to vote on whether or not to declare war against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He wants to approve the war while restraining its scope.

“I’m arguing to pass a war authorization that just puts some common sense restrictions on use of massive amounts of ground forces inside Syria and Iraq,” he said. “I think that’s where most people in Connecticut are: I think most people want us to take the fight against ISIS but they want to do it in a way that supports local armies on the ground rather than putting another 100,000 American troops there.”

Amanda Rogers is a specialist in ISIS propaganda at Georgia State University. She said there’s something else to think about: if Congress declares war against ISIS, the terrorist group could actually use that to bolster its PR campaign.

“Part of the problem is that any recognition that they are a state in legal terms matters immensely in terms of how they use that in PR,” she said. “Regardless of what happens, they are going to be spinning it as a war against them, and they as the proxy of global Islam which is absurd.”

Rogers said ISIS puts far more emphasis on their social media strategy than their military capability, so fighting their rhetoric is just as important as decisions about military force. She said, in order to minimize ISIS’ rhetoric of legitimacy, any declarations of war should include language that emphasize the illegitimacy of ISIS, and America’s relationship with other legitimate states in the region fighting against the terrorist group.

Getting to that point, though, may be an uphill battle. There’s a war authorization bill in the house and senate right now with bipartisan support -- from its sponsor Senator Timothy Kane, a Republican, and its one cosponsor, Democratic Senator Jeff Fluke. Murphy himself is not a cosponsor of that Senate bill.

President Obama has also proposed a draft for a war authorization that was criticized from both sides of the aisle. Some members of Congress said it wasn’t restrictive enough and could allow the military to fight in perpetuity. Others have shied away from declarations of war on ISIS because a war authorization could include limits on where and how long the U.S. could fight, and they don’t want to restrain the President against a rapidly changing threat.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 1, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the military would be increasing its number of American special operations forces in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS.

Kathie is a former editor at WSHU.