Let the war debate begin

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, left, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, speaks about the Islamic State group in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Wednesday in Washington.

Congress should support President Barack Obama’s request to give him new authority to combat Islamic State terrorists. Congress should even be willing to give the president somewhat more than he is seeking.

The resolution would replace the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq, which dates back to 2002. Given the threat, the commander in chief could well require additional latitude to cover unexpected contingencies in a perilous military mission.

It is imperative that the president is provided, in a timely manner, the freedom to carry out the nation’s military response to the Islamic State.

And in this case, the president might at some point realize that the restraints he has put on himself are too tight in the fight against ISIS.

So the language of the resolution passed by Congress should be broad enough, for example, to allow U.S. military personnel to locate targets for U.S. and allied aircraft supporting ground action by local forces.

President Obama has not said he would authorize such a mission, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said they will recommend that he do so if required for successful military outcomes.

Of course, the legislative branch, though short of declaring war, has an oversight duty whenever American armed forces are sent into action.

But at the same time, Congress should be careful not to impose crippling restrictions on the commander in chief. And it is simply not possible to predict what turns the Middle East conflict will take in the next two years.

It might eventually be up to Mr. Obama’s successor to complete this mission. That suggests that the AUMF should be up for review and amendment in December 2016, giving the incoming president an opportunity to argue for the authority he might require at that time.

Meanwhile, however, it is clear that Americans do not have a unanimous view about the purposes, scale and duration of our nation’s renewed engagement in the Middle East.

So the debate on the AUMF should give all sides ample opportunity to air their concerns about yet another Mideast campaign.

Only through a full and open debate will it be possible to form a new consensus on why we are once more sending the U.S. military into harm’s way.