The Obama administration has conducted its reluctant and late-developing fight against ISIS since last fall under the auspice of the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that allowed George W. Bush to invade and then occupy Iraq. Technically, that AUMF could continue in force, but Democrats have long wanted to scrap it — especially between June 2011 and August 2014, when Barack Obama kept insisting that he’d ended the war in Iraq. Obama himself has demanded a more tailored AUMF but has been reluctant to draft it, preferring to pass the political risk to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.
With Republicans in control on Capitol Hill, though, Obama finally had no choice but to offer his own proposal for the AUMF that he’s demanding. The White House finally released it today, and it’s less than inspiring:
The president is sending Congress a proposed three-page authorization for military force. A copy was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press from congressional officials.
Obama would limit authorization to three years, with no restriction where U.S. forces could pursue the threat. Obama’s proposal bans “enduring offensive combat operations,” an ambiguous term intended as compromise between lawmakers who want authority for ground troops and those who don’t.
The use of the term “enduring” seems like a slap at Bush in more than one way. Before becoming President himself, Obama repeatedly criticized Congress for giving the executive a blank check to wage war in Iraq with the AUMF. Bush also called the war in Afghanistan, which operates under a separate AUMF that will not be affected by this proposal, “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
So what will this be called? “Operation Unenduring Obligation”?
Josh Rogin writes that Obama’s plan will hamstring his successor as well as himself:
If enacted, the president’s AUMF could effectively constrain the next president from waging a ground war against the Islamic State group until at least 2018. Aides warned that the White House may tweak the final details before releasing the document publicly.
In advance of the release, top White House and State Department officials have been briefing lawmakers and Congressional staffers about their proposed legislation. Two senior Congressional aides relayed the details to me.
The president’s AUMF for the fight against Islamic State would restrict the use of ground troops through a prohibition on “enduring offensive ground operations,” but provide several exemptions. First, all existing ground troops, including the 3,000 U.S. military personnel now on the ground in Iraq, would be explicitly excluded from the restrictions. After that, the president would be allowed to deploy new military personnel in several specific roles: advisers, special operations forces, Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to assist U.S. air strikes and Combat Search and Rescue personnel.
That appears to track with what we’re doing now, under the old AUMF. And … it’s clearly not enough to stop ISIS’ expansion, let alone “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. What’s more, the White House obviously knows this. It has almost two years to achieve its stated goals against ISIS. If the strategies they’re employing now could succeed, they wouldn’t need a new AUMF under which to implement them.
The entire purpose of this is to keep the failing strategy in place, not just through January 2017, but for almost another year after Obama leaves office. Perhaps Obama isn’t as sanguine about Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances as are other Democrats and media analysts. At any rate, this new AUMF is neither necessary nor prudent, and Congress should refuse to bind the hands of the next President in favor of a war strategy that’s already failing.
Update: I didn’t see this earlier, but Instapundit asks the right question:
How about “the total destruction of our enemies and all who support them?” If you don’t want a war to drag on, that’s probably the best way to do it.
Either fight a war to victory as robustly as possible, or don’t do it at all. The current AUMF allows for both options. Stick with that.