It's time to declare war on ISIS

The speed of the news cycle and the media obsession with the presidential horseraces have crowded out a crucial development in the war on ISIS and related Islamic jihadist groups.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has been sounding out colleagues for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). The current AUMF, which was written in 2001 and targeted groups connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, has not been renewed. Believe it or not.

Bravo for Paul Ryan's statesmanship. But a new AUMF must be accompanied by a clear U.S. declaration of war against ISIS. We will never destroy them without a full-blown war declaration.



House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Now, there are important details regarding the AUMF. Ryan is correctly opposed to the Obama White House ISIS strategy, which would bar widespread use of U.S. combat troops in Syria and Iraq and would place limits on the length of military options. Sound familiar? It's Iraq and Afghanistan all over again. The new speaker won't stand for it. Good for him.

The White House wants to forbid "boots on the ground" and wishes to prohibit "enduring offensive ground combat operations." The use of Special Forces would be allowed, but that would expire after three years. In other words, Team Obama would tie the hands of the U.S. military and send all the wrong signals to our enemies.

But if the Republicans in the House and Senate show some backbone, they can get an AUMF without all the Obama prohibitions. Heaven forbid the Joint Chiefs be able to run a war.

This brings me back to the key point. In his pursuit of a new AUMF, Speaker Ryan must seek a formal U.S. declaration of war against ISIS. It is extraordinary that this has yet to be done. It should have happened 15 months ago, or surely after the horrific terrorist events in Paris.

I cannot understand why the president has yet to call an emergency NATO meeting to declare war on the Islamic State — which, by the way, has declared war on us.

But our president wants no part of that. Remember the Obama re-election-campaign narrative? Terrorism has been defeated and is no longer a problem. So how can you declare war on something that is not a problem?



Retired four-star general Michael Flynn, a recent head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said, "I don't think enough people in our country see ISIS for what it is, and I think part of that is because our leadership has really denied the fact of who this is that we are facing . . . I think they failed to tell the truth."

The fact is, this is the greatest national security problem of our time. ISIS attacks from Europe to California have tragically proved that again and again.

So, how can it be that the Washington leadership has not produced a war declaration which would surely rally the American people? A war declaration adds urgency, energy, and immediacy to the war.

What's more, a war declaration would be a forcing device, outlining the American strategy with respect to the Islamic State and terrorism in general. What is it we want? How will we know when we get it? How does the war end? How long do we stay? What are our postwar intentions?


These are a few of the questions that must be asked and answered so that the American people will know what the American government intends to do. In this way, a war resolution will not only underscore the importance of this conflict, it also will help rally Americans to the cause.

It's a question of leadership, really. It's a question of commander-in-chief.

It's a question of congressional responsibility.

And it's a question for the presidential candidates in both parties. Answer it, please.


The White House and Congress must be truthful with the American people. No more pulling punches. A war will be a war, with the availability of all of our resources on land and in the air, and with the unfortunate reality of collateral damage in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The great American military understands that costs must be suffered if American freedom is to be protected.

As retired four-star general and former Army vice chief Jack Keane recently told Congress, "There is no substitute for an effective ground force supported by air power. Air power is an enabler, not a defeat mechanism."

So we must do whatever it takes to destroy ISIS. Right now, it's not clear that the U.S. is winning.

This is both national security and homeland security. But we will not win this war unless we take the battle — in full force and without limits — to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The best way to protect the homeland is to utterly destroy our enemies where they live.


Commentary by Larry Kudlow, a senior contributor at CNBC and economics editor of the National Review. Follow him on Twitter @Larry_Kudlow.