Washington Fights Over Authorization to Use Military Force in Middle East
On Tuesday the West celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, an event that dramatically changed religion, politics, and civilization in Europe. The movement led to the Thirty Years War, one of the longest wars in Western history.
The US is well on its way to beating this record. America is already 16 years into the “War on Terror” and there is no end in sight.
The keystone to this war is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was passed after the 9-11 attack. It gave the president wide latitude to send military assets anywhere where there are terrorists.
Here is what, the relevant part says: “The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
The Problems with the Current AUMF
The problem is that the US Congress has refused to fulfill its constitutional role of declaring war. Instead, they have given the president nearly unlimited authority to send military assets into any country without congressional review.
There have been some in Congress who have questioned this unlimited presidential authority. But, there is more than the constitutional issue. It is also a political issue that has led to political theater.
In September, Senator Rand Paul submitted an amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force. It was killed with a 61–36 vote. Senators Paul, Mike Lee, and Dean Heller were the only Republicans to vote against the motion to kill the amendment. Senator Marco Rubio did not vote.
Senator Paul said, “My vote is on whether or not we should vote on whether we should be at war. So for those who oppose my vote, they oppose the Constitution. They oppose obeying the Constitution, which says we are supposed to vote.”
Although the Senate Republicans stood fast against eliminating AUMF, political issues have caused two GOP senators to join the anti-AUMF bandwagon, even though they voted to keep it just a few weeks ago – Senators Flake and Corker.
Both Flake and Corker have announced that they are leaving the Senate next year. Although they have cited different reasons for their decision, both Senators were opposed to Trump, were lagging behind pro-Trump challengers in the polls and were very likely to lose in their primaries. Now that they don’t have to reflect their pro-Trump voters, they have opted for some political theater.
“Congress needs to weigh in, we need to make sure our adversaries and our allies and our troops know we speak with one voice,” said Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. “We haven’t weighed in; we haven’t said our peace on this. We ought to aspire to be more than a feedback loop.”
Senator Foreign Relations Chairman Senator Corker said his panel would mark up new legislation, possibly modeled on a proposal Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Flake introduced in May. Their version would require Congress to reauthorize the bill every five years, and require the administration to notify Congress if it sends troops to new countries not specifically named in the AUMF.
However, much of the Washington establishment – including Trump people – support keeping AUMF as is, even though Trump campaigned against the expansive use of AUMF under Obama. President Trump’s secretaries of state and defense told lawmakers this week that the US military doesn’t need any new authorization to fight dozens of groups in at least 19 countries — and “any attempt to place time limits or geographical constraints in a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force could cripple efforts to fight terrorists.”
The hearing was called in the wake of the Oct. 4 attack in Niger that left four American troops dead in an apparent ambush near the border with Mali. The Military Times reports that operation “brought new focus on the need to update the military force authorizations governing those missions.” And yet Monday’s debate stayed largely to the scripts of previous war authorization debates on Capitol Hill: “The 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force remain a sound basis for ongoing U.S. military operations against a mutating threat,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senators.
When might these wars wrap up? Mattis said, essentially, that it’s impossible to know: “We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict against an adaptive enemy who could hope that we haven’t the will to fight as long as necessary…We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner if we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting.”
Despite Mattis’ comments and vast military experience, there are many problems with the current AUMF. The AUMF broadly permits a president to use military force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” But it does not grant him the power to use military action for another reason, such as fighting the ISIS or intervening in Libya or Syria for reasons unrelated to the 9/11 terror attacks.
The problem is that presidents of both parties find it easier to take the maximum use of the AUMF than go to Congress and convince them of the need to use the military. As Congress fails to hold the executive branch accountable, the president will continue to usurp Congress’s power and perpetuate wars that have not been authorized.
From the view of Americans, the problem is a long term one and extends beyond the Middle East. America’s constitutional checks and balances exist to ensure that one branch does not have too much authority, which encourages robust debate over serious issues, such as war. When Congress stands by as the president usurps congressional power and grants dictatorial authority to a president, who can make vital decisions without the consent of the legislative branch, it sets precedent for future presidents to interpret legislation broadly in order to claim excess power.
This can be seen in the current over application of the AUMF. Much of the recent intervention in the Middle East and Northern Africa does not even seem to have much national-security benefit. For example, the United States assisted the overthrow of leaders, such in Egypt and in Libya, even when they posed no immediate threat to American national security.
The United States has also aided multiple rebel groups against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, even though some rebels are affiliated with ISIS. With danger rising up in unstable areas, the Senate never seriously discussed these dangers nor voted on intervention before simply barging into Syria.
The impact on the US military’s readiness is serious. Special Forces soldiers, who cost about $2 million and a couple of years per soldier to train, are overextended. Consequently, their deployments are longer, and their retention rate is dropping dramatically. Even moving these forces out of places like Syria only mean that they are going to another country like Niger.
The cost of these deployments is also taking money from needed modernization and reequipping of the military services. War powers also impact domestic policy. After entering into World War I, for example, economist Robert Higgs writes, the federal government nationalized “the railroad, telephone, domestic telegraph, and international telegraphic cable industries.”
It manipulated, Higgs adds, “labor-management relations, securities sales, agricultural production and marketing, the distribution of coal and oil, international commerce, and markets for raw materials and manufactured products” — all while using the Federal Reserve to inflate the dollar. Taxes increased drastically, and the national debt skyrocketed up to $25.5 billion in 1919, when it was just $1.2 billion two years before.”
During the Bush years, the war on terror helped establish the PATRIOT Act and the Transportation Security Administration. During the Obama years, war helped establish a more intrusive National Security Agency. Trump is already mimicking his predecessors by advocating increased steel tariffs in the name of national security.
Despite the problems with the AUMF – both foreign and domestic – Congress is loath to modify it, even though it is reducing Congress’ constitutional power to govern the US. In the light of constant ISIS attacks in the US as on Tuesday in New York City, no politician wants to go home and tell voters that he doesn’t want to hamstring the fight against terrorism.
However, unless there is a change, more Americans and other will die. And, the US will be in the running for being at war longer than 30 years.
One then wonders if the US may try to outlast the 100 Years War between England and France.
Iran Deal Was Not About Iran
By Theodore R. Bromund
October 24, 2017
President Donald Trump’s announcement of a new strategy for confronting Iran offers a modicum of hope that the United States will stop kicking the can down the road in the Persian Gulf. But to do that, we have to recognize the point of the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t to restrain Iran. It was to restrain the United States. The Iran nuclear deal may be the most poorly designed agreement the U.S. has ever signed. It gave Iran immediate relief from Western sanctions in return for Iranian pledges of good behavior in the future. Iran knew that once sanctions were lifted, it would be hard for us to re-impose them. To do that, we need European cooperation, and with Iranian dollars flowing to Europe’s industries, we’re unlikely to get it.
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Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy a Breath of Fresh Air
By Olivia Enos
October 23rd, 2017
President Trump introduced a long-awaited new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan that differs substantively and positively from the Obama administration policy. The change in policy is a welcome and necessary transition that reflects the reality that conditions in Afghanistan are not the same as they were in 2001, or even 2009 when Obama approved a surge in U.S. troops in Afghanistan. New conditions necessitate a new strategy.
First, and arguably most importantly, Trump signaled a transition from a timeline-based strategy to a conditions-based plan of action. This represents a sharp departure from the Obama administration’s policy which set timelines for troop withdrawal starting in 2011. President Obama also announced in advance the handover from U.S. troops to Afghan security forces in 2014, and the anticipated full withdrawal at the end of 2016.
Trump did not set a timeline for complete withdrawal, stating that the U.S. needs to focus on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary dates to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
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What Does Niger Have to Do with the AUMF?
By Alice Hunt Friend
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 26, 2017
Recent events in Niger have called attention to the role of Congress in overseeing military deployments outside areas of active hostilities. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepares to consider the value of updating or even replacing the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al Qaeda and associated groups, it is worth considering how global extremism has evolved over the past 16 years and the types of congressional authorities the Department of Defense (DoD) relies on to today.
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Allies and Influence in Syria
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 27, 2017
There isn’t a number system in the world in which three is greater than 73. And yet, in Syria, an alliance of three governments has run circles around an alliance of 73, imposing its order on a violent and chaotic situation. It is tempting to see the whole episode as a sign that alliances are overrated, and that going forward, the United States should worry less about having the world on its side. But if the conflict in Syria teaches us anything, it is that the United States needs to put more energy into building its alliances, since the world we will face after Syria will require them even more. While the avowed U.S. goal in Syria was to defeat the Islamic State group (ISG) and not fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the two were always related. Assad nurtured the rise of the ISG and harshly repressed peaceful elements of the Syrian opposition. He believed, apparently, that his best hope for survival lay in fighting a foe even more unpalatable to the world than he was. The United States hoped to find a way to dispense with both, believing that Assad’s brutality would only nurture more Islamist extremism. It built a mighty coalition—first 60, then 65, and now 73—to fight the ISG, and it covertly supported a collection of forces intended to create a non-radical Syrian opposition.
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Tunisia’s Corruption Contagion: A Transition at Risk
By SARAH YERKES and MARWAN MUASHER
October 25, 2017
Corruption is a destabilizing force in Tunisia, infecting all levels of its economy, security, and political system. Once tightly controlled under former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, corruption has now become endemic, with everyday citizens engaging in and benefitting from corrupt practices. Numerous legal measures and civil society initiatives have been working to fight corruption, but it is perceived to be even more pervasive today than it was under Ben Ali. For the democratic transition to survive, Tunisia must fight a two-front war to simultaneously address the former kleptocracy and the emergence of widespread petty corruption. And to be successful, government and civil society must first agree on a framework for understanding and implementing the war. The international community should then support this framework with targeted funding and assistance.
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President Trump Takes A Wise Middle Course On The Iran Nuclear Deal
By Ilan Berman
American Foreign Policy Council
October 20, 2017
In his policy speech last Friday, President Trump did not scrap the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as some prominent conservative thinkers had suggested he should. Nor did he simply leave the deal intact, as proponents of the agreement had previously counseled. Instead, the president charted a middle way intended to give America greater leverage over Iran’s nuclear program and processes. To start, it’s necessary to understand that formally “certifying” the agreement – which the president has now declined to do – isn’t actually part of the deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Rather, it is a separate condition imposed by the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, a piece of legislation cobbled together by Congress in an effort to gain oversight over the Obama administration’s maddeningly opaque negotiating process with the Iranians.
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Israel’s National Security since the Yom Kippur War
By Joshua Krasna
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 25, 2017
For the Jewish people, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (which fell this year on September 30), is the holiest day of the year. It is a day for solemn retrospection and repentance. In Israel, Yom Kippur is a phenomenon: it is the one day of the year when Israel’s borders and airspace are closed; while no law forbids it, only emergency vehicles are on the road in Jewish cities and neighborhoods; all shops are closed. Sixty percent of Jewish Israelis report that they fast on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur has another, more secular significance for Israelis. It marks the lowest point in Israel’s 70-year history—the Yom Kippur War, which began on October 6, 1973. Only six years after Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War, Egypt and Syria carried out a surprise attack on thinly spread Israeli forces in the Sinai and the Golan Heights, destroying or capturing many of them, under the umbrella of mobile surface to air missiles which nearly neutralized the Israeli Air Force. The IDF, over several desperate days, recovered its balance and mobilized reserves, then halted the opposing armies’ advances, rolled them back, inflicted a crushing defeat on the opposing armies, and occupied large tracts of their territories.
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Why are American Forces in Niger?
By Rebeccah L. Heinrichs
October 30, 2017
United States forces are sweating, bleeding, craving sleep, missing their wives, their children, and their friends while serving in Niger. And, in the case of Sgt. La David Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, they are sacrificing their lives. The tragic deaths of these four special operators occurred when Islamist militants ambushed their 12-man Green Beret-led team on October 4th, 2017. The conflict has brought our operations in Niger under a national spotlight. Members of Congress who claim they did not know we had troops in Niger are either stunningly forgetful or are being insincere. There have been hearings on our operations in Africa, and the Commander of Africa Command, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, discussed Niger. If Congressmen truly didn’t know we had troops in Niger, this was not due to a lack of transparency on the part of the Pentagon. All of this is available information for those whose responsibility it is to authorize and appropriate the funds necessary to equip U.S. forces we send into harm’s way.
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Hezbollah’s Terror Army: How to Prevent a Third Lebanon War
By Richard Kemp, Lord Richard Dannatt, and Klaus Naumann
October 27, 2017
On October 25, Col. Richard Kemp, Gen. Lord Richard Dannatt, and Gen. Klaus Naumann addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute as part of the long-running Stein Counterterrorism Lecture Series. Kemp is former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and led the international terrorism team at Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee. Dannatt is former chief of the general staff of the British Army. Naumann has served as chief of staff of the German Bundeswehr and chairman of the NATO Military Committee. All three participated in a High Level Military Group project that led to the publication of the recent report Hezbollah’s Terror Army: How to Prevent a Third Lebanon War. The following is a rapporteur’s summary of their remarks.
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