The Post editorial:

A bill by Rep. Mike Coff­man would reign in the use of force abroad with­out ex­plicit ap­proval of Con­gress.

The Denver Post - - NEWS | DENVER & THE WEST -

For 16 years Amer­i­can pres­i­dents have used vague au­tho­riza­tions of mil­i­tary force to wage pro­tracted wars against amor­phous and evolv­ing en­e­mies in mul­ti­ple states in the Mid­dle East.

Time has come for Con­gress to pass a new au­tho­riza­tion against our new foe, the Is­lamic State, and against our old en­e­mies, al-Qaeda and the Tal­iban, that sets a rea­son­able time limit for the on­go­ing con­flict and is as spe­cific as pos­si­ble.

Rep. Mike Coff­man, R-Aurora, in­tro­duced a new au­tho­riza­tion for the use of mil­i­tary force on Thurs­day that would take just such a step to reign in the use of force abroad with­out ex­plicit ap­proval from Con­gress.

The bi­par­ti­san bill is sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous ef­forts to stop the ex­ec­u­tive branch’s abuse of the au­tho­riza­tion made in the wake of the 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks, and a sec­ond au­tho­riza­tion for the war in Iraq in pur­suit of weapons of mass de­struc­tion. We hope this ef­fort, or sim­i­lar mea­sures in the Sen­ate, get the trac­tion needed to change the course of our mil­i­tary con­flicts.

When Pres­i­dent Barack Obama launched an at­tack on Libya to help rebels over­throw Col. Moam­mar Khadafy, he did so with­out au­tho­riza­tion of Con­gress. He called the de­ci­sion an ef­fort to in­ter­vene to pre­vent an im­mi­nent hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, but tar­geted Khadafy’s troops, air fields and other govern­ment de­fenses. We were skep­ti­cal of the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the at­tack and called on Obama to get Con­gres­sional ap­proval.

The de­ci­sion to sup­port regime change in Libya, although brief, con­trib­uted to in­sta­bil­ity in the en­tire re­gion, and has proven to be a poor one. Such an ac­tion de­served a pub­lic de­bate on the floor of the House and Sen­ate as our rep­re­sen­ta­tives weighed the deci- sion to in­volve our­selves in a for­eign con­flict with lit­tle fore­see­able end.

A nar­rower and time-lim­ited au­tho­riza­tion of force would be a step to­ward Con­gress re­claim­ing its long-held power of declar­ing war. We wrote in 2011 that “this na­tion’s founders wisely sought to limit the power of a sin­gle elected leader to wage war, and their logic is no less rel­e­vant to­day.”

Since World War II, his­tory has been on the side of that bal­ance of power — with few no­table ex­cep­tions, in­clud­ing Obama’s at­tack in Libya and Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s 1999 bomb­ing in Kosovo. Con­gress pre­pared for the in­va­sion of Afghanistan by pass­ing a joint res­o­lu­tion af­ter Sept. 11, 2001 au­tho­riz­ing “the use of United States Armed Forces against those re­spon­si­ble for the re­cent at­tacks launched against the United States.”

In 2002 Con­gress ap­proved use of force in Iraq. Both have served as jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for our on­go­ing fights.

But Coff­man, a Marine vet­eran, points out both of those au­tho­riza­tions are in­suf­fi­cient to guide our cur­rent mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly, he noted when Amer­i­can troops are deal­ing with the Tal­iban in Afghanistan. He said the au­tho­riza­tion from 2001 cov­ered mil­i­tary in­ter­ac­tions with al-Qaeda but fall short of ex­tend­ing to the Tal­iban, leav­ing our troops wait­ing for sus­pected com­bat­ants to first show harm­ful in­tent.

“The rules of en­gage­ment have been very con­fused,” Coff­man said.

Our troops need our un­con­di­tional sup­port: ex­plicit au­tho­riza­tion of their con­flict, clear di­rec­tives of en­gage­ment, and prom­ises that we will not send them to war with­out a de­lib­er­a­tive process be­fore this na­tion’s once great leg­isla­tive branch.

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