Letters to the Editor

William E. Jackson: Our illegal war on ISIS

Regarding the May 4 news article “U.S combat death in Iraq reflects intensifying war”: The “combat” death of U.S. Navy Seal Charlie Keating, who was advising and assisting Kurdish forces in Iraq, coincides with a secretive, deepening American role in fighting the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon is steadily expanding the American military role. The strategy, such as it is, is to ensure that the Iraqis do the ground combat, supported by U.S. air strikes and Special Operations “advisers” closer to the front lines. If the troops are rotated in for less than four months, they are not counted in the official caps total for American boots on the ground.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has said that, as the Iraqis gain battlefield momentum, the Pentagon will pursue additional ways to support them. That will entail adding more U.S. troops to advise Iraqi brigade and battalion commanders closer to the fight. Inevitably, that means the likelihood of more U.S. combat casualties, even though the White House indulges in the fiction that there are no U.S. “boots on the ground” in Iraq or Syria. Soon, the U.S. will send Apache attack helicopters into battle in support of an Iraqi assault on Mosul. We are also committed to sending more mobile artillery.

It must be acknowledged that the war on ISIS is illegal under the terms of the War Powers resolution of 1973 and unconstitutional if the threat is not a direct attack upon the United States. Very few members of Congress seem to care enough to publicly raise questions, including the chairmen and ranking minority members of the armed services, foreign relations and intelligence committees of both houses.

The Authorization for Use of Military Force against the sponsors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was actually cited by the Obama administration as covering a recent American airstrike on a Shabab training camp in Somalia. The same was true in a later airstrike – using both manned and unmanned aircraft – on a training camp for militants in Yemen. The Pentagon claimed that the strike hindered planned attacks against “U.S. persons” – the same language used to describe recent strikes in Libya.

These official rationalizations can be used to “boot strap” any presidential deployment of Special Forces military advisers or CIA paramilitary personnel into legalistic authority for a direct combat role – including missions with no connection whatsoever to the original authorization for force.

We are beholding a fundamental transformation in Madisonian government. The checks and balances on power written into the Constitution have given way to a unitary form of government under which civilian and military bureaucrats – at the National Security Council and in the CIA, Defense, State and Justice departments – effectively decide on the use of military force by the United States.

William E. Jackson Jr.


The writer served as chief legislative assistant to the Senate Majority Whip, 1974-1977, when Congress reasserted Article I powers over American national security policy. The length limit was waived.