Paul R. Pillar
The role that the U.S. Congress has assumed for itself as a player in foreign policy exhibits an odd and indefensible pattern these days. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, calls it a “double standard,” although that might be too mild a term.
On one hand there are vigorous efforts to insert Congress into the negotiation of an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. The efforts extend even to attempts to interfere in the details of what is being negotiated, as reflected in a string of amendments being considered in debate in the Senate this week on a bill laying out a procedure for Congress to pass a quick judgment on the agreement. On the other hand there is inaction, with little or no prospect of any action, on an authorization for the use of military force against the so-called Islamic State.
That combination is exactly the opposite of the roles Congress should play, taking into account first principles of when and why the people’s representatives ought to weigh in on the conduct of the nation’s foreign relations.
Going to war is probably the most consequential thing the nation can do overseas. It entails substantial costs to the nation, and as recent experience should remind us, carries the risk of far greater costs, both human and material, than may have been anticipated at the outset. It is quite appropriate for such a departure not to be left solely in the hands of the executive.