In yet another fiasco in legislative engagement, the White House-proposed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) specific to ISIS has floundered in the Senate. Much like Barack Obama’s budget proposals, the AUMF not only can’t get Republican support, it has failed to get key Democratic support in the Senate as well. As a result, Politico’s Manu Raju and Burgess Everett report, the bill may not even get a vote in committee:
Key Democrats are hardening their opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposal for attacking Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, raising fresh doubts the White House can win congressional approval of the plan as concerns grow over its handling of crises around the globe.
In interviews this week, not a single Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed support for the president’s war plan as written; most demanded changes to limit the commander in chief’s authority and more explicitly prohibit sending troops into the conflict. …
In an interview, Corker issued a stark warning: If Democrats refuse to lend any support to Obama’s request for the Authorization for Use of Military Force against ISIL, he may scrap a committee vote, making it less likely the full Senate or House would even put it on the floor, much less pass it. The comments put pressure on the White House to deliver Democratic votes or witness the collapse of a second war authorization plan in Congress in as many years.
Translation: You wanted this, you work for it. President Obama doesn’t actually need a new AUMF to attack ISIS, not in Iraq, nor Syria, Libya, nor anywhere else. The White House and State Department have argued — accurately — that both the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda and the 2002 AUMF authorizing military operations in Iraq allow the Obama administration to pursue ISIS. ISIS morphed from al-Qaeda in Iraq, led originally by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and explicitly affiliated with so-called “core AQ.” Since then ISIS and AQ have had fallings-out, but they still fall under both AUMFs, which is why the US has been conducting air strikes against ISIS positions in both Iraq and Syria.
In a larger sense, Obama made it clear he doesn’t need an AUMF at all. He didn’t get one for Libya when he led NATO into what has turned into a disastrous decapitation strategy against Moammar Qaddafi on the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. In fact, Obama famously refused to ask permission from Congress, even though the threat was not against the US and operations went beyond the 90-day limit of the War Powers Act. At first, Obama bragged about the conquest, claiming that this was the proper way to conduct regime change; Hillary Clinton cackled about Qaddafi, “We came, we saw, he died” after his assassination. When Libya collapsed into a failed state, though, suddenly the Obama administration wasn’t so keen on bragging about their actions in Libya — especially when the collapse cost the lives of four Americans in Benghazi the next year, killed by a terrorist attack from an AQ affiliate that took advantage of the power vacuum the Obama/Clinton policy left in the failed state.
This time, Obama wants Congress to share the risk by endorsing a strategy that is already failing to contain ISIS, let alone “degrade and ultimately destroy” it. The irony here is that not even Obama’s allies want to hitch themselves to that broken-down wagon. Neither do Republicans, some of whom have pointed out that the restrictions Obama has requested may not be constitutional anyway. In any event, the request is nothing but a dodge of responsibility.
The Senate should pass an AUMF that makes the constitutional lines clear, and commits Obama to victory without any reservations or timetables. If he wants to fight ISIS — and there is clear bipartisan support for that fight — then Congress should pass a bill that charges the President to use all means at his disposal to fight ISIS until it is destroyed, however long it takes and with whatever force he deems necessary. The responsibility to fight a war rests entirely on the executive, and that’s where it should remain.
Update: Speaking of failing strategies …
The Hazzm movement was once central to a covert CIA operation to arm Syrian rebels, but the group’s collapse last week underlines the failure of efforts to unify Arab and Western support for mainstream insurgents fighting the Syrian military.
A blow to U.S. moves to aid rebels, the dissolution of Hazzm also highlights the risks that a new Department of Defense program could face in training and equipping fighters in Jordan, Turkey and Qatar.
U.S. officials plan to train thousands of Syrian rebels over three years. The program is expected to begin this month in Jordan and focuses on battling the hardline Islamic State group rather than President Bashar al-Assad.
Hazzm’s collapse has shown how such efforts will prove difficult in a country where insurgents often battle each other and arms have fallen into the hands of hardline groups.
An AUMF won’t fix these problems.