Yesterday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter shrugged when asked if0 a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) was needed for the fight against ISIS. Three days earlier, Barack Obama challenged Congress to pass a new AUMF, but Carter said it wasn’t needed, and that the Pentagon had all of the authority it needed for the fight. “I’m not a lawyer, but I’m told (we do),” Carter said. “I’m glad, otherwise it would be a problem.”
Today, though, a new bipartisan proposal in the House matches another in the Senate, signaling that Congress may decide to pass a new AUMF anyway:
Two House lawmakers on Thursday introduced a measure to authorize military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), making it the first bipartisan and bicameral measure to do so.
Reps. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) introduced the legislation, a companion bill to a measure in the Senate offered by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
It would expire after three years unless reauthorized, repeal the Iraq War authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) and be the sole authorization for the war against ISIS.
The Senate version of the bill from Kaine and Flake was introduced in June, after it became clear that the White House proposal was a non-starter. That bill, S.1587, is still active, although not easy to track down. It too has a three-year expiration date, plus one other interesting clause, emphasis mine:
SEC. 3. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
(a) Authorization- The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces as defined in section 6.
(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-
(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1547(a)(1)), Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(b)).
(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this Act supersedes any requirements of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541 et seq.).
(c) Purpose- The purpose of this authorization is to protect the lives of United States citizens and to provide military support to regional partners in their battle to defeat ISIL. The use of significant United States ground troops in combat against ISIL, except to protect the lives of United States citizens from imminent threat, is not consistent with such purpose.
So this is an authorization to use military force that bars the use of military forces. We can bomb them until the cows come home, but we can’t put troops in the theater to fight. Instead, this AUMF envisions the Obama administration calling together “a broad international coalition” to fight the terrorist quasi-state without our participation on the ground. One could quibble about the meaning of the term “significant,” but it’s not going to mean the 1000-2000 troops we’d need to signal our seriousness about this fight to the broad international coalition.
In other words, it’s a Congressional endorsement of the status quo, which clearly isn’t working and arguably is making matters worse. The “anti-ISIL coalition” this AUMF mentions isn’t interested in providing ground troops if the US isn’t going to participate, and without ground troops of some kind, ISIS isn’t going to get degraded, let alone destroyed. It provides Barack Obama an excuse to do nothing more than he’s doing now, while hamstringing the next president unless he or she can convince Congress to amend the AUMF.
Between this and the existing AUMFs, Congress should opt for the latter. If Congress wants to pass an AUMF that will truly send a signal about a serious fight to destroy ISIS, then pass one without the highlighted clause above and without the ridiculous three-year time constraint. (What happens if we haven’t destroyed ISIS by the deadline? Do we just punt and go home?) Either fight a war to win or don’t fight it at all.
Better yet, pass the one Lindsey Graham wants:
Pass that kind of an AUMF, and you’d guarantee that Obama would stop talking about it for the next 14 months.