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Obama’s Anti-ISIS AUMF: A Classic Muddle

Yesterday I wrote “here we go again” with President Obama agonizing over another major foreign-policy decision–whether or not to arm Ukraine–even as our enemies push ahead with great determination and cunning. Today we are seeing yet another Obama MO: the tendency, once endless administration deliberations are finished, to produce a split-the-difference solution that doesn’t accomplish as much as it should.

I refer to the president’s request to Congress to pass an Authorization for the Limited Use of Military Force (ALUMF) against ISIS. Now, the U.S. has been bombing ISIS since August and the administration has been talking about how to produce an AUMF that will allow Congress to weigh in without unduly cramping the president’s options. The result of all these deliberations? A request that allows the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces.” So far so good: this is the kind of robust authority that the president needs to fight this band of jihadist fanatics.

But then come the limitations. First, the authority does not extend to “the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground operations.” Second, the authority will expire in three years. Presumably these are sops intended to appeal to Democrats in Congress and a few Republican isolationists who are upset about the prospect of the U.S. waging “another” war in the Middle East. But do they make any sense?

The way the first restriction is worded–what the heck is an “enduring offensive ground operation” and how does it differ from a “temporary defensive ground operation”?–will, admittedly, make it largely meaningless. But still: the intent is clear and it’s to prevent the U.S. from engaging in ground combat against ISIS even if there is no good tactical alternative to such action.

Likewise the deadline–a favorite Obama limitation on the use of military force–is not as binding as it sounds. After all, if Obama has been able to fight ISIS for more than six months based on his executive authority and with no AUMF, it stands to reason that a future president could continue such action even after the AUMF expires. But the symbolism is clear–it is meant to imply that the U.S. will end its anti-ISIS operation within three years, whether that group is defeated or not.

This may be welcome to the ears of anti-war Democrats, but to our allies and enemies in the Middle East this, along with the restriction on the use of ground combat forces, sends a message of irresolution that will make it tougher for our troops to accomplish their mission.

At least we can be grateful that Obama is not seeking the repeal or rewrite of the unlimited post-9/11 AUMF against al-Qaeda, something he has been talking about doing since at least 2013. The last thing the U.S. military and intelligence community need are greater limitations on their ability to combat the monsters who burn and behead hostages.



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2 Responses to “Obama’s Anti-ISIS AUMF: A Classic Muddle”

  1. MANUEL LAZEROV says:

    The indecision and excessive deliberations by the administration are not necessarily caution. No policy or half-measures may achieve the exact outcomes that the administration seeks.

  2. MARC SALZBERGER says:

    I supported the invasion of Iraq. Wringing the neck of the world’s anti-American champion, was right. Securing the oil fields against the threat of his tank army, was right. Ffighting and beating the fanatic insurgency, was right. Trying to give the Middle East the model of a successful Arab democracy, was right. Though Iraq turned into a betrayed and only partial success I still think it was worth trying.

    But the times and circumstances are now achanging. Vast, accessible, new oil reserves and techniques, in US, Canada, Russia, and off shore, are in the process of making us indifferent to who control’s the Gulf’s oil fields. Moreover, it is likely, quickly maturing new battery technology will before long produce cheap electric cars with 200 mile range, lowering the world’s gasoline thirst. In short, the time is fast approaching when we can turn our back on the Middle East. The Arabs will have to fight their own battles. In any case, Iraq taught us that public opinion won’t allow and the US military is incapable of the sustained cruelty and indifference to civilian casualties that fighting Islamists guerrillas requires. Arab armies however are off that hook.

    In short, it won’t matter whether ISIS prospers or not, whether Iraq divides, Assad prevails, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan become terrorist havens. Our counterterror set up can largely keep the homeland safe. Lone wolf attacks, while grist for the media, won’t significantly affect our homicide statistics of 30 murders a day. Even the toppling of the Twin Towers never weakened the US which has erected hundreds of skyscrapers since then.

    It is time to cool it on the M/E front, except where it poses a truly grave danger: nuclear proliferation. Iran, which still considers the US the Great Satan, armed with the bomb, will make the Middle East dangerous in a completely new way. It will enable Shia and Sunni fanatics to inflict truly grievous wounds on America and Europe. That has to be prevented, and boots don’t enter into it.




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