SAN DIEGO, February 20, 2015 – Barack Obama sent a request to Congress this week asking them to vote on a specific authorization of military force against the Islamic State. The request was unusual in some regards and the response from Congress was exceptionally unusual.
The central authorization clause says:
The President is authorized, subject to the limitations in subsection (c), 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 as defined in section 5.
In the cover letter included, the President does acknowledge the Islamic State threat in these terms:
“The so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses a threat to the people and stability of Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East, and to U.S. national security,” Obama writes. “It threatens American personnel and facilities located in the region and is responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens”
The AUMF, as it is known in shorthand, includes some basic features that are the subject of debate on Capitol Hill.
One is that it has a book-ended time frame – 3 years. Another is that it appears to prohibit a widespread offensive war, emphasizing a cooperative role with America’s main partners in the region. It states as a ‘limitation’ to the general re-authorization of the War Powers Act, the following:
The authority granted in subsection (a) does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.
This clause does leave itself open to a pretty wide interpretation of how “enduring offensive ground combat operations” could be defined. The authorization requires periodic report from the White House to Congress on the status of the mission and sunsets the The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 (Public Law 107–243; 116 Stat. 1498; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note).
There’s not much else in the document. It’s pretty simple and straightforward. The debate in Congress concerning it is anything but. The hawks and doves on either side of the aisle see a lot in the authorization that they don’t like for different reasons.
Many Republicans think the President tied his own hands unnecessarily and Democrats think the request is too vague. House Speaker John Boehner outlined his reservations on the request:
“If we are going to defeat this enemy, we need a comprehensive military strategy and a robust authorization, not one that limits our options. Any authorization for the use of military force must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people…I have concerns that the president’s request does not meet this standard.”
Nancy Pelosi’s official statement was not much of a surprise:
“We hope to have bipartisan support for something that would limit the power of the President, but nonetheless protect the American people in a very strong way.”
“I worry that this AUMF gives the ability for the next president to put ground troops back into the Middle East,” said Senator Chris Murphy, adding that that would be a sticking point for himself and many other Democrats.
Then there are Republicans, the usual suspects, that object because they still harbor some fantasy about another attempt at persuading their fellow lawmakers that the military should be deployed opportunistically to launch an attack on Assad in Syria. “If the authorization doesn’t let us counter Assad’s air power, I think it will fail,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading Neo-con foreign policy voice.
There is no secret that Graham and John McCain still yearn for a war against Assad. Last October they co-wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which they made the preposterous claim that the Islamic State cannot be defeated unless Assad is regime changed:
The airstrikes and other actions President Obama is taking against Islamic State deserve bipartisan support. They are beginning to degrade the terrorist group, also known as ISIS, but will not destroy it, for one reason above all: The administration still has no effective policy to remove Bashar Assad from power and end the conflict in Syria.
McCain and Graham persist in promoting the fiction that there are ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria and that the best way to ensure their success is to attack the Syrian government. We did something identical in Iraq and replaced a dictator with an Islamic terrorist government aligned with the very nation that McCain, Graham and the rest of the neo-cons want to simultaneously launch bombing raids against – Iran.
They say that “our efforts to build up a viable Free Syrian Army to liberate Syria from the evils of Islamic State and Mr. Assad will surely fail if the Syrian ruler is not dealt with”. Obama’s efforts to train, arm and supply the fictitious Free Syrian Army are the very reason that the Islamic State is now running rampant in Northern Syria and Iraq.
The rest of the screed is equally idiotic and out of sync with the reality of everything that has happened in the region the past 12 years. Democracy and nation building in the Middle East are an unqualified flop, with Republican and Democrat fingerprints all over them.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, correctly fingers likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as a participant in the mismanagement of foreign policy in the region, either out of incompetence or treachery.
“I do really blame Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya,” Paul said Wednesday on Fox News referring to the NATO campaign to oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi authorized by Obama while Clinton was secretary of state.
Libya decended into chaos following NATO’s removal of Gaddafi and has become a breeding ground for radical Islamic fighters, many of whom have left to join ISIS’s ranks.
Paul also said the U.S. needs to supply more weapons to Kurdish fighters fighting ISIS in Iraq, but said the U.S. should refrain from getting involved in the war in Syria — fearing weapons supplied to moderate fighters could get into ISIS’s hands.
This is the most lucid observation on the correct course to be taken from any of the major voices in Congress. The Islamic State is a menace that the Obama administration abetted with orchestration from the CIA, the Pentagon,the State Department, Britain’s MI6 and U.S. ‘partners’ in the region – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey . There is now an obligation to obliterate the menace and secure our personnel that are under threat.
It’s likely that the President’s request was more a draft proposal and whatever emerges in negotiations between Congress and the White House, will have something more palatable for all parties. Meanwhile, the foot dragging is only needlessly prolonging a series of decisive actions that should have been underway months ago.
Once again our dysfunctional and corrupt foreign policy has ‘broken it’ and now we have to own it. We need to clean up the mess but we also need a serious discussion about a regime change here to prevent more episodes, more costly failures from being repeated.