TIME

U.S. Builds Regional Support to Fight ISIS

Ten Middle Eastern nations, including Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have pledged to "do their share" in the fight against the terrorist group

When Eyada Hussein left his house in the Hasakah province of Syria four months ago militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) had set up a checkpoint just 100 meters from his home.

“You have to understand, if ISIS is here, then there are regular people just here,” said Hussein pointing from one side of the narrow street to the other, in this neighborhood of Beirut where he works on construction site.

For Hussein, President Barack Obama’s speech last night evokes mixed emotions. He wants ISIS out of his village and out of his country, but his family, his wife and nine children are still there. He says he can’t afford to bring his family to Lebanon—instead he is sending them money from his wages here, “and now the border is closed.”

It’s unclear how quickly these strikes could come—Obama said he “will not hesitate to take action against [ISIS] in Syria, as well as Iraq,” but there was no timeline announced for the action.

The U.S. has been hitting the militants in Iraq since early August, with over 150 strikes against military positions and vehicles in the north, and more recently the west, of the country. Hussein’s home is just 40 kilometers from the Iraqi border. ISIS now straddles this frontier, and it was their sweep through northern Iraq and their march toward Kurdish territory, that pushed the U.S. to finally strike the militants.

But striking in Syria is infinitely more complicated. Iraq is a U.S. ally and the governments have close ties and aligned regional goals, for the most part. These strikes in Iraq came with consent and request from Baghdad. In his speech, Obama touted the success of Iraq in forming a new government, one many hope will help bring discontented Sunni Iraqis back in to the political fold and aid the fight against ISIS, which has support from many Sunnis in the areas it controls.

Just one year ago the U.S. was also talking about hitting Syria—but then the target would have been the military infrastructure of the President Bashar Al-Assad. Obama eventually backed down.

“Really, the US needs to strike both,” said Hussein, referring to ISIS and the Assad regime.

These strikes against ISIS could inadvertently strengthen Assad’s position in the over three-years of battle between opposition rebels, Islamist militants and his army backed by Shi’ite Hezbollah fighters. The Syrian government originally said they wouldn’t permit U.S. strikes in their territory, but they would likely to look away while American drones buzz around looking for ISIS leaders. In fact today Syria seemed to soften that stance, with the country’s deputy foreign minister telling NBC News they had “no reservations whatsoever,” about the strikes, though he said Obama must coordinate with Assad.

“The Syrian regime does not want to pick a fight with the U.S.,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a specialist in Middle East political-military affairs and a former CIA analyst. “They’ve got their hands full with civil war.”

The strikes will come along with some support to bolster moderate Syrian rebel groups who fight both ISIS and the Syrian regime, but Pollack says this won’t be enough to defeat ISIS in Syria. Saudi Arabia has offered to provide bases to train the fighters.

“The strategy should be building a new Syrian opposition army. One that would be effective, one that would be respected and one that we could actually partner with, providing air support,” said Pollack. “But it means going much further than Barack Obama has wanted to go in Syria.”

The quick advance of ISIS in Iraq, and their garnering of new weapons and popular support among disenfranchised Sunni Iraqis, has placed the U.S. in an increasingly difficult position. Action against the extremists puts Washington on the same side as Damascus and Tehran, historically its regional foes. And despite the desire of many Iraqis and Syrians to rid their country of the Sunni extremists, civilian deaths caused by U.S. strikes could raise resentment against the West.

Ultimately, regional support is going to be critical in combating the terrorist group. Visiting Saudi Arabia today, Secretary of State John Kerry secured the backing of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council—which includes Saudi Arabia and Qatar—for action against ISIS, with the countries pledging to “do their share” in the fight against the terrorist group. The declaration adding that the countries would join the military campaign against the group “as appropriate.” For Pollack, such backing is key in the fight against ISIS.

“We don’t want the Americans leading a collation of Europeans on a new crusade in the Middle East against Islamists,” he said. “Even if they are vicious, horrible Islamists, the optics are really bad.”

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. to Ratchet Up Russia Sanctions

Russia's President Putin leaves the Life-giving Trinity church in Moscow
Alexei Druzhinin—RIA Novosti/Reuters Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves the Life-giving Trinity church in Moscow, Sept. 10, 2014.

An effort to ensure recent cease-fire holds

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that the United States would “deepen and broaden” its sanctions on Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine, despite last week’s cease-fire reached between the government of Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists.

American and European officials have been preparing the additional sanctions for weeks, and decided to press ahead with them this week. “We have yet to see conclusive evidence that Russia has ceased its efforts to destabilize Ukraine,” Obama said in a statement, noting that the U.S. is taking the action in response to the presence of Russian military forces in eastern Ukraine over the last month.

The specific sanctions will be detailed Friday, when the European Union will also outline a new round of economic sanctions against Russia. “We will deepen and broaden sanctions in Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors,” Obama said. “These measures will increase Russia’s political isolation as well as the economic costs to Russia, especially in areas of importance to President Putin and those close to him.”

Obama hinted at the additional sanctions last week, suggesting that ratcheting up the pressure was the most likely way to ensure compliance with the cease-fire. “It’s my view that if you look at President Poroshenko’s plan, it is going to take some time to implement,” Obama said last week following a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Wales. “And as a consequence, for us to move forward based on what is currently happening on the ground with sanctions—while acknowledging that if, in fact, the elements of the plan that has been signed are implemented then those sanctions could be lifted—is a more likely way for us to ensure that there’s follow-through.”

“If Russia fully implements its commitments, these sanctions can be rolled back,” Obama said Thursday. “If, instead, Russia continues its aggressive actions and violations of international law, the costs will continue to rise.”

 

TIME energy

Africa and Belgium Generate the Same Amount of Electricity – But That’s Changing

Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region in Ethiopia, March 2014.
Tiksa Negeri—Reuters Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, March 2014.

Lack of power is holding Africa back

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com

The statistics of the African Development Bank are terrifying: Africa’s total installed power generation capacity is 147 gigawatts. That’s about the same amount as Belgium’s total capacity, and the equivalent of what China installs every 12 to 24 months.

To turn this around by 2030 and ensure universal electricity access, the International Energy Agency assumes a $30 billion investment would be needed, at minimum.

It would be foolish to envision a future where Africa’s energy needs are to be met by expensive conventional fossil fuels. Sadly, few intercontinental efforts to boost installed renewable energy capacity seem to be gaining traction. However, a number of countries have come to this realization. Unfortunately, they are not necessarily Africa’s dominant power generators but represent those who have set achievable renewable energy plans in motion. In these countries, the sheer magnitude of investments being made shows how importantly African governments take the challenge of making the continent energy efficient and sustainable.

Certainly, some countries have advantages. Due to the presence of the Blue Nile – one of the two major tributaries of the Nile River — 96 percent of Ethiopia’s energy comes from hydropower, but authorities have not seen this as a reason to ignore the country’s potential from other renewable sources. Over the current decade, Ethiopia is seeking to increase its supply fivefold from 2,000 megawatts (MW) to 10,000MW through renewable energy. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam across the Nile, set to be the biggest dam in Africa when it launches in 2017, will provide the bulk of that with a capacity of 6,000MW. However, Addis-Ababa’s renewables plan is remarkably well rounded, and includes wind, solar and geothermal. This is no mere paper pledge either, as leading geothermal expert Reykjavik Geothermal is on the ground to build a 1,000MW power plant, the first stage of which will open in the Rift Valley in 2018.

Kenya is Africa’s second biggest renewable energy power producer, behind Ethiopia, and presents a similar model. Hydropower powers half of Kenya and it will likely remain the continent’s foremost geothermal producer until Ethiopia opens its Rift Valley plant. Kenya is also planning Africa’s largest wind farm — a 300MW project to be built by the Lake Turkana Wind Power Construction. Should the project come to fruition, it will be Kenya’s largest-ever foreign investment, no mean feat for one of Africa’s most investment-friendly economies. Kenya also struck out from the pack by understanding the role financial services must play in any steady renewable energy plan and launching Africa’s first carbon trading platform in 2011.

Algeria has chosen a different tack than its sub-Saharan colleagues. In setting its own renewables plan, Algeria is seeking to become an energy exporter off the back of its solar potential. In 2011, it announced plans to install 22GW by 2030 with the goal of keeping 12GW for internal consumption and exporting 10GW. Rather than focusing on one massive project like Ethiopia or Kenya are, Algeria envisioned this capacity being spread across a myriad of smaller plants. This would largely be done with Chinese involvement, including Yingli Solar, which won a bid in December 2013 for the first 400MW tranche of 1.2GW solar plant. With instability in the region rising, it remains to be seen whether Algeria’s medium-term plans come to fruition, but its energy export ambitions are a wonderful example of the continent’s potential.

These examples are positive, but not every African country has a major river or serious interest from foreign investors. Many of the continent’s smaller economies, even trusted democracies like Botswana, are dependent on importing most of their power. But this should not stop them from taking active steps to halt this dependence.

Botswana has imported 80 percent of its electricity on average in recent years, but this country of 2 million has a program devoted to electrifying rural areas through renewables, has implemented renewable energy feed-in tariffs to stimulate investment, and used funds from the World Bank to fully investigate its concentrated solar power potential.

Efforts like these will hopefully serve as a clarion call to other African nations to explore their options for developing renewable energy sources, and to foreign investors about opportunities in this sector. Africa’s smaller countries cannot wait indefinitely for outside help: their energy future is in their own hands.

 

TIME Foreign Policy

What a Trip to Iraq Reveals About Obama’s ISIS Plan

John Kerry Iraq Baghdad Helicopter
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State John Kerry looks out over Baghdad from a helicopter on Sept. 10, 2014.

Rhetoric versus reality in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone

The Republican Palace in central Baghdad was once Saddam Hussein’s preferred spot for meeting foreign leaders. The complex here, which served as the headquarters for the U.S. occupation, is vast and gaudily ornate. A huge outdoor fountain features a golden dragon that blasts high-pressure arcs of water through the air.

Today the palace is back in the hands of the Iraqis, and again serves as a destination for dignitaries. Hours before President Barack Obama addressed Americans Wednesday night about how he’ll combat the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), John Kerry’s motorcade pulled up outside the palace under a blazing hot sun. The Secretary of State was there for a meeting with Haider al-Abadi, Iraq’s new prime minister—and a man on whom Obama is placing a very large bet.

Two days earlier, Kerry had hailed the Iraqi parliament’s choice of Abadi to succeed Nouri al-Maliki as “a major milestone” for Iraq. That may prove true: Maliki was a disaster for Iraq and for U.S. interests, a quasi-dictator whose thuggish treatment of Iraq’s Sunni minority stymied the country’s political maturation and allowed ISIS to feed off of Sunni resentment.

But it remains unclear whether Abadi truly offers a new vision for Iraq—or just a new face.

The fight against ISIS could hinge on the answer. Obama’s speech tied his expanded campaign against ISIS directly to Iraq’s political reform. “[T]his is not our fight alone…. we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves,” Obama said, adding that his latest action “depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days.”

But the rhetoric from Washington puts a happy face on a dicey reality. A senior State Department official admitted as much in a background briefing for reporters traveling with Kerry this week. “This is going to be extremely, extremely difficult. The problems that are confronting Iraq are incredibly challenging,” the official said. “And when you look at them day to day, they are so daunting that… you ask yourself where do you possibly go from here.”

*****

ISIS hasn’t reached Baghdad, but this city is far from safe—even if the local cell phone carrier sends a text message wishing you “a pleasant stay in Iraq.” ISIS fighters have been detonating car bombs in Baghdad on a regular basis for months. Three of them exploded on the day of Kerry’s visit, killing 30 people.

Security dictated that Kerry first land in Jordan and then switch from his official State Department 757 to a military plane capable of tactical evasion and counter-measures. At Baghdad’s airport, Kerry strapped on a flack jacket for a short helicopter ride to the U.S. embassy compound inside the Green Zone, a district of government buildings heavily fortified against the daily violence beyond its checkpoints.

Kerry’s motorcade moved slowly through the Green Zone’s endless checkpoints and speed bumps. All around were armored vehicles with black-clad soldiers manning mounted machine guns. An army tank stood guard at the end of an empty bridge. Even the motorcade’s press van was joined by a security man with an assault rifle. Nerves were jangly. When a sudden “pop” was heard as Kerry exited one meeting, an Iraqi soldier came running with rifle in hand. “I was reaching for mine!” the security man said. It turned out a car had backfired.

After their private meeting, Kerry and Abadi met briefly with the press in facing arm chairs, glasses of orange juice on a table between them. Balding and pot-bellied, Abadi has a gentler air than the grim-faced Maliki, and sat with a warm grin as Kerry praised the “boldness” of his promises to resolve issues that have vexed Washington for years, including Sunni representation in Baghdad’s government and feuds with Iraq’s Kurds over oil revenue sharing.

After meeting several more top Iraqi officials later in the day, Kerry was even more effusive. In all his past visits to Baghdad, Kerry said, he’d never before heard such unanimous “commitment to the concept of inclusivity and of addressing the unaddressed issues of the last eight years or more.”

But beneath the happy rhetoric lie red flags. Abadi may speak in inclusive tones, but his background is ominously similar to Maliki’s. Both are members of the Shi’ite Dawa party, formed in opposition to Saddam’s rule and backed by Iran, a Shi’ite nation detested by Iraqi Sunnis. One former advisor to several U.S. officials in Iraq has described Dawa as having an “inherently secretive, sectarian, exclusionary, Iranian-sympathizing culture.”

And many of Abadi’s cabinet ministers are holdovers from Maliki’s government. Two of the most crucial posts—the ministers of defense and interior—remain unfilled. Abadi’s original choice to run the interior ministry, which controls the Iraq police, is the leader of the Badr Organization, a Shi’ite militia group that massacred Sunnis during the last decade. That prompted a Sunni freakout and pressure from Washington that torpedoed the choice. (Abadi says he will fill the vacant ministries by next week; whether he can will be a vital early test.)

Nor do Iraqi Kurds trust the Shi’ite power structure in Baghdad. The Kurds call their support for Abadi’s government good for only three months if their demands, particularly regarding oil revenues, aren’t met.

“There are lots of politics left to play out,” says Douglas Ollivant, a former top Iraq aide under Obama and George W. Bush. “But it’s in our interest to declare this government ‘good enough.’”

Kerry skated by such details Wednesday. At the U.S. embassy compound—itself a fortress within the fortress of the Green Zone—Kerry called Iraqi political reform “the engine of our global strategy” against ISIS. The advent of a new government, he added, means “it’s full speed ahead.”

It may be that Abadi represents a new dawn for Iraq. But we’ve been here before. Not so long ago an American president celebrated the creation of a new Iraqi government. “This broadly representative unity government offers a new opportunity for progress in Iraq,” he declared. “The new government reflects Iraq’s diversity and opens a new chapter in that country’s history.”

That president was George W. Bush. The leader of that new government was Nouri al-Maliki.

TIME Crime

The Oscar Pistorius Case: How It All Began

The March 11, 2013, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: PIETER HUGO / THE NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE The March 11, 2013, cover of TIME

In March 2013, TIME took a deep look at the origins of the Pistorius case

The murder trial that transfixed the world for much of 2014 began drawing to a close on Thursday, as a South African judge found Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius “negligent” but not guilty of murdering his girlfriend. Pistorius, 27, fired four shots into a bathroom at his Pretoria home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, killing model Reeva Steenkamp, but based his defense on thinking she was an intruder.

Global media relentlessly followed the case, which at times grew graphic and included a break so Pistorius’ mental health could be evaluated by experts. The judge is expected to issue a formal verdict on Friday, Sept. 12. Pistorius can still be found guilty of culpable homicide, or murder without premeditation, and may face years in prison.

Last March, TIME featured Pistorius in a cover story about this tragic series of events — not just it’s beginning between Pistorius and Steenkamp, but also in terms of the place of violence in South African society. The relationship between that culture and the famous athlete is a meaningful one, Alex Perry wrote:

If South Africa reveals its reality through crime, it articulates its dreams through sports. When in 1995—a jittery year after the end of apartheid—South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela, adopted the Afrikaner game, rugby, and cheered the national team on to a World Cup win, he was judged to have held the country together. In 2010 his successors in the ANC delivered the message that Africa was the world’s newest emerging market and open for business through the faultless staging of a soccer World Cup.

Pistorius was the latest incarnation of South African hope. He was born without a fibula in either leg, and both were amputated below the knee before he reached his first birthday. Using prosthetics, Pistorius went on to play able-bodied sports at Pretoria Boys High School, one of the country’s most prestigious private schools, before a knee injury left him on the sidelines. Advised to run for his recovery, he began clocking astonishing times using carbon-fiber blades that copied the action of a cheetah. In 2012 in London, he took two Paralympic gold medals and one silver and ran in an Olympic final and semifinal.

That March 11, 2013, story is now available free of charge in TIME’s archives. Click here to read it in its entirety: Pistorius and South Africa’s Culture of Violence

Read next: Oscar Pistorius Gets 5 Years for the Culpable Homicide of Reeva Steenkamp

TIME Viewpoint

Showdown in Hong Kong

Hong Kong protesters rally outside government offices after Beijing’s Aug. 31 announcement of its election scheme for the territory
Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images Hong Kong protesters rally outside government offices after Beijing’s Aug. 31 announcement of its election scheme for the territory

Beijing must realize that the territory’s openness is what gives it real value to China

When China took Hong Kong back from Britain in 1997, the leaders in Beijing labeled their reclaimed possession an “economic city.” They weren’t just referring to Hong Kong’s high-octane penchant and talent for making and spending money. They meant, too, that Hong Kong’s citizens should concentrate quietly on their livelihoods. Yet today, Hong Kong, a financial hub and largely open society, is one of the most politicized and polarized places in China. Despite its business-as-usual veneer, the territory is tense, fragmented and unsure.

Beijing is, above all, responsible for this transformation. The latest trigger: the Chinese leadership’s Aug. 31 ruling on the next election, set for 2017, of Hong Kong’s head of government, who is called the chief executive (CE). While the CE would for the first time be chosen by the voting public instead of the current narrow 1,200-member election committee, Beijing set suffocating conditions for the ballot. A likely facsimile of the committee—dominated by the conservative, pro-China establishment—would vet candidates beforehand. Nominees would need at least 50% of the group’s support to make the cut. And only three candidates at most would be allowed to run.

Backers of the scheme say it heralds progress and represents a historic step for Hong Kong as well as China. Critics say it’s a sham designed to exclude anyone in Beijing’s bad books.

Because Hong Kong is wired into the global economy, what happens to it matters to the rest of the world. The CE is essentially just a big-city mayor, but how he or she is chosen frames how free Hong Kong remains within China. In theory, the territory has a special “one country, two systems” status under which it exercises a fair bit of autonomy and retains its liberties and way of life. In practice, Beijing is applying ever greater pressure on Hong Kong’s officials, businesspeople, journalists, educators and even judges to show loyalty to China.

The CE decree is the most overt sign of the mainland’s interference. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp—a varied assemblage of politicians, students, academics, barristers, activists and opportunists—has reacted with anger and dismay. More street protests are likely. One group vows to hold mass sit-ins downtown. Anti-Beijing lawmakers say they won’t support the election plan. If it fails to pass—it needs a two-thirds majority in the territory’s legislature—a political impasse could result, and Hong Kong would face a crisis of governance. Even if the election took place as dictated by Beijing, turnout could be low, rendering the process meaningless and the winner functionally illegitimate.

Freedom vs. authoritarianism is a righteous battle anywhere, but Hong Kong’s is not a straight fight. Though the territory has been a part of China for already 17 years, mentally, the two exist in parallel universes. Values, culture, behavior, language—they all diverge. Many young mainlanders admire Hong Kong’s spirit, and many older Hong Kong citizens take pride in China’s new might.

But, broadly, neither side is comfortable with the other. China sees Hong Kong as spoiled and ungrateful despite its privileges denied to the rest of the nation. Hong Kong regards China as overbearing and uncouth. A recent survey by the University of Hong Kong shows less than 20% of local respondents identifying themselves as “Chinese.” Hong Kong’s antipathy toward China goes beyond the political—it’s existential.

To China’s leaders, what’s different about Hong Kong is what makes it dangerous. Some local activists have called for the end to Communist Party rule of the mainland, making them, from Beijing’s standpoint, subversives. Beijing’s harder and more intimidating line toward Hong Kong reflects its harder and more intimidating line at home and toward much of the rest of the world. If powers like the U.S. and Russia are reluctant to challenge China, goes the thinking in Beijing, who is tiny Hong Kong to do so?

Such sentiments are understandable but petty for a nation desiring greatness. Beijing must think boldly about Hong Kong. It should realize, and accept, that the city is a model, not a rebel; that it is what the mainland should aspire to be—Chinese yet international. Then, perhaps, Hong Kong might finally come home to China.

TIME South Africa

Judge in Oscar Pistorius Trial Rules Out Murder

Judge may still rule Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide

The judge in the trial of Oscar Pistorius ruled on Thursday that the South African runner was not guilty of murder but delayed handing down a formal verdict, which may still hold him guilty of culpable homicide, likely until Friday.

The verdict will mark the beginning of the end of a globally publicized, six-month-long trial of the feted athlete, who in 2012 became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. Pistorius, 27, was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Feb. 14, 2013, after shooting her four times through a bathroom door at his home in Pretoria. He claimed to mistake Steenkamp for a possible intruder, the Associated Press reports, but chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Pistorius intended to injure her after the two had quarreled.

In the first day of her verdict reading, Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder. The judge admitted she had doubts about several witness accounts, including those who heard a scream or cry thought to be a woman’s. “None of the witnesses had ever heard the accused cry or scream, let alone when he was anxious,” Masipa said, alluding to a chance it could have been Pistorius’ voice.

But, without issuing a formal verdict, she said “culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” according to the AP. “I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and with excessive force.”

Culpable homicide with a firearm normally carries a five-year prison sentence in South Africa, the AP adds, though the number of years can vary. And the final verdict may not mean the end of the saga, as Pistorius and the prosecution both retain the right to appeal the decision.

Pistorius, who frequently caused the court to adjourn throughout the trial in order to compose himself and who Masipa described as a “very poor witness” on Thursday, the AP reports, listened while sitting on a bench, at times quietly weeping. He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old but began competing in Paralympic events using prosthetic limbs, earning himself the moniker “blade runner.” He proved successful enough to compete in able-bodied events including the 2012 London Olympics, and became an icon for athletes with disabilities.

Steenkamp was a burgeoning star herself who had appeared on the cover of FHM magazine and was slated to take part in an upcoming reality TV travel show.

[AP]

TIME foreign affairs

Obama’s Breathtaking Expansion of a President’s Power To Make War

President Barack Obama delivers a live televised address to the nation on his plans for military action against the Islamic State, from the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington Sept. 10, 2014.
Saul Loeb—Reuters President Barack Obama delivers a live televised address to the nation on his plans for military action against the Islamic State, from the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington Sept. 10, 2014.

President Obama hoped to repeal the Bush-era authorization declaring war on al Qaeda—instead he's expanded it without bound

Future historians will ask why George W. Bush sought and received express congressional authorization for his wars (against al Qaeda and Iraq) and his successor did not. They will puzzle over how Barack Obama the prudent war-powers constitutionalist transformed into a matchless war-powers unilateralist. And they will wonder why he claimed to “welcome congressional support” for his new military initiative against the Islamic State but did not insist on it in order to ensure clear political and legal legitimacy for the tough battle that promised to consume his last two years in office and define his presidency.

“History has shown us time and again . . . that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch,” candidate Barack Obama told the Boston Globe in 2007. “It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.” President Obama has discarded these precepts. His announcement that he will expand the use of military force against the Islamic State without the need for new congressional consent marks his latest adventure in unilateralism and cements an astonishing legacy of expanding presidential war powers.

The legacy began in 2011 with the seven-month air war in Libya. President Obama relied only on his Commander in Chief powers when he ordered U.S. forces to join NATO allies in thousands of air strikes that killed thousands of people and effected regime change. His lawyers argued beyond precedent that the large-scale air attacks did not amount to “War” that required congressional approval. They also blew a large hole in the War Powers Resolution based on the unconvincing claim that the Libya strikes were not “hostilities” that would have required compliance with the law.

Although he backed down from his threat to invade Syria last summer, President Obama proclaimed then the power to use unilateral force for purely humanitarian ends without congressional or United Nations or NATO support. This novel theory, which removed all practical limits on presidential humanitarian intervention, became a reality in last month’s military strikes to protect civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar and in the town of Amirli.

Yesterday’s announcement of a ramped-up war against the Islamic State in Iraq and possibly Syria rests on yet another novel war powers theory. The administration has said since August that air strikes in Syria were justified under his constitutional power alone. But yesterday it switched course and maintained that Congress had authorized the 2014 campaign against the Islamic State in the 2001 law that President George W. Bush sought to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The administration’s new approach allows it to claim that it is acting with congressional approval. It also lets it avoid the strictures of the War Powers Resolution because that law does not apply to wars approved by Congress.

The problem with this approach is that its premise is unconvincing. The 2001 law authorized force against al Qaeda and its associates. The Islamic State once had associations with al Qaeda, but earlier this year al Qaeda expelled it and broke off ties. The administration nonetheless insists that the 2001 law applies to its new military action, primarily because the Islamic State claims to be “the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy” and is supported by “some individual members and factions of [al-Qaeda]-aligned groups.” But if this remarkably loose affiliation with al Qaeda brings a terrorist organization under the 2001 law, then Congress has authorized the President to use force endlessly against practically any ambitious jihadist terrorist group that fights against the United States. The President’s gambit is, at bottom, presidential unilateralism masquerading as implausible statutory interpretation.

The largest irony here is that President Obama has long hoped to leave a legacy of repealing the Bush-era authorization and declaring the “war” against al Qaeda over. “I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal” the 2001 law’s mandate” he said in a speech last May at the National Defense University. “I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further,” he added, before insisting that “history” and “democracy” demand that “this war, like all wars, must end.”

President Obama never did engage Congress to refine the 2001 law. The violent reality of the Islamic State has quickly belied the supposed demands of history and democracy. And the President, all by himself, has now dramatically expanded the 2001 mandate.

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law, served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel, from 2003-2004, in the George W. Bush Administration.

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