Pentagon, Capitol Hill sources: This AUMF proposal is completely unnecessary

Yesterday, President Obama finally got around to offering his proposal on a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) tailored to his vision of how to handle ISIS. So far, it has received a striking amount of unanimity in response … of the kind usually reserved for Obama’s budget proposals. No one seems to like it — not Republicans, not Democrats, and most importantly not the people who will have to fight under its auspices. Sources at the Pentagon told The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak and Nancy Youssef that the proposal and the debate that will accompany it amounts to a waste of time:

On the face of it, the AUMF update was prompted by the need to write a law that reflects current world threats and shapes the American military strategy. But for the Department of Defense, which believes it already has the necessary authorization to fight the war, the latest AUMF is merely about showmanship.

As a result, the ongoing congressional debate about the authorization was met with hardly a shrug at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“We don’t need a new AUMF to do our jobs” because the ongoing AUMF has allowed the United States to conduct its war legally, said one defense official who asked for anonymity to speak more candidly. “The AUMF is frankly more of a political issue than a military one.”

The only endorsement of the proposal from Capitol Hill that Mak and Youssef could find comes with a rather heavy caveat:

“It’s not a complete waste of time…We have the power of war-making,” said a Senate aide who works on the issue. “It is our job to define the president’s authority in this area.”

Mak and Youssef argue that it is in fact a complete waste of time:

It’s hard to imagine the process as anything but a farce. A new authorization won’t affect military operations, already long under way; indeed, three service members have already perished in ongoing operations. And politically, the debate forces lawmakers to take a stance on an uncertain war that could take a generation to unfold.

Later in the day, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told KSL Radio that it wasn’t just a waste of time, but beneficial to ISIS:

“And here we have the president coming up with this — I think it’s utterly stupid — proposal,” Hatch told KSL News Radio. “And he’s binding the next president also with really stupid language.” …

Hatch said ISIS could use the restrictions in the proposal to its advantage.

“Why would we not only unilaterally impose limitations as to which types of tools and tactics our service members can use then also broadcast these limitations to the enemy?” he said.

“If we’re telling the Islamic State upfront that we will not using ground forces, will they not tailor their strategy around that fact? Tell me!” he said.

“If we advertise when the authorization expires with the arbitrary date and time, won’t they just hunker down and wait for that date?”

Hatch, whose voice raised several times during the interview, apologized for getting worked up. “I mean, i’m really up in arms about it.”

If you’ll pardon the pun, but Hatch isn’t the only one exercised by the empty gesture. So are some Democrats, according to The Nation’s George Zornick, because the proposal only repeals the 2002 AUMF against Iraq. It leaves in place the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda, which also governs the ongoing operations in Afghanistan. They have a point here, too. As John Kerry argued last year, operations against ISIS — which used to be al-Qaeda in Iraq — are legitimate under that AUMF too:

Republican hawks in Congress are already criticizing the proposal for putting too many restrictions on the military operation. That’s to be expected. But more notably, some top Democrats are openly questioning if this authorization is essentially meaningless. Others are raising red flags about the scope of the mission Obama outlined, arguing it may ultimately place no real restrictions on military combat and end up blessing a wide and endless war. …

The legislation would also repeal the authorization for use of military force (AUMF) Congress passed in 2002, which gave George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. It would not repeal nor alter the 2001 AUMF Congress passed in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks.

However, the administration has already said the 2001 authorization allows for combat missions against ISIL. Secretary of State John Kerry asserted during Senate testimony last year that “good lawyers within the White House, within the State Department, who have examined this extremely closely, have come to the conclusion across the board” that the 2001 authorization applies.

Some leading Democrats have therefore argued the sunset in Obama’s proposal is essentially useless.

The whole debate is pointless. Existing AUMFs allow Obama to prosecute war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and al-Qaeda around the world. If Obama chooses to limit how that war is fought, that is the prerogative of the President, but then he’s accountable for the performance of the war. Now, though, Obama wants to shift some of that accountability to Congress — which is laughable after refusing to get Congressional input on what turned out to be a disaster in Libya, and then nearly doing the same thing in Syria.

Make no mistake: this is Obama’s attempt to avoid responsibility for his own failing strategies in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and everywhere else. Congress should politely thank Obama for the proposal, and table it as moot.