Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The War Against ISIS and the Absurd AUMF Debate

The entire process of authorizing the war is happening long after the decision to intervene was made without any real debate.

The administration’s proposed authorization for the ISIS war restricts the use of ground forces, but does not limit the war to Iraq and Syria:

There are no geographic limitations, so the administration would be free to expand the war to other countries.

Since the administration claims to believe that the 2001 AUMF already applies to the war against ISIS, it’s a little bit strange that they have included any restrictions in the draft of the new resolution. Limiting the use of ground forces makes it easier for members to vote for the authorization, but then the administration would have been happy enough if Congress never voted for a new resolution. The resolution would have to be renewed after three years, but that is likely to be a mere formality when the time comes. Fighting such an open-ended, ill-conceived war all but guarantees that it will continue beyond any time limit set for it in the AUMF. When such a resolution has been passed once, there will be great reluctance in Congress to withdraw support for an ongoing war a few years down the road. The sunset provision is included to make a bad policy seem more reasonable. There is likely to be no more serious rethinking of the policy three years from now than there was serious consideration of the wisdom of intervention last summer. The entire process of authorizing the war is happening long after the decision to intervene was made without any real debate. There has never been any meaningful public deliberation over whether military action was either wise or necessary, and the debate over this resolution isn’t going to remedy that.

It is hard to miss the absurdity of this entire process. The war has been going on for half a year, so it’s not as if the administration thinks it needs Congressional approval. In the event that that the administration chooses to ignore the restrictions included in its proposed AUMF, there is very little chance that it will be forced to answer for that by Congress. That is especially true when many members of the majority in both houses object to the language of the proposed resolution because it is too limiting rather than too broad. The lack of geographical limitations is worrisome, since it suggests that the administration conceives of the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria as just one part of a potentially much larger campaign. Along the same lines, authorizing force against ISIS’ “associated forces” potentially allows the U.S. to take military action in Libya or in any other country where a jihadist group declares its support for ISIS, no matter how tenuous the actual connection between the organizations might be. The administration has already presumed to wage war on its own authority for months on more than one occasion, and it has interpreted existing law and previous Congressional authorizations however it pleased, so it would be foolish to think that it will respect the limits contained in a new resolution.