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Obama’s Many Abuses of the 2001 AUMF

Micah Zenko marvels at the Obama administration’s absurd legal reasoning behind its decision to use force to defend U.S.-backed Syrian rebels against their attackers:

As we approach the first anniversary of the start of the illegal war on ISIS, the fact that the administration continues to abuse and distort the 2001 AUMF shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. If they can get away with using this authorization as a legal basis for attacking rival splinter groups hostile to Al Qaeda (as they have done in the war on ISIS), I suppose there’s no particular reason why they can’t pretend that the authorization covers using force against Syrian government forces that are opposed to both Al Qaeda and ISIS. It’s a nonsensical and dishonest way to interpret the AUMF, but that’s no different from what the administration has done for the last twelve months. The administration’s legal arguments regarding the war on ISIS have been absurd from the start, and it is just more egregious in this instance.

The fact that the administration continues to warp the 2001 AUMF to mean whatever they want it to mean underscores how pointless the debate over a new specific authorization for the current war has always been. If members of Congress want to rein in presidential war powers, they need to repeal the 2001 AUMF. Whatever restrictions they put in a new authorization will be ignored and the the 2001 resolution will continue to be invoked as a carte blanche by the White House. That effectively gives this administration and future administrations license to start wars against whatever group or regime at their discretion, and most members of Congress have demonstrated for the last year that they have no interest in doing anything about that.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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