We Need a New Authorization to Use Military Force

August 10, 2016
A single American mortar, drone strike, or cruise missile barrage is an act of war to the target regardless of congressional inaction. Over the past two years, our commander-in-chief has sent our large, all-volunteer, standing military to war against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya unrestricted by our feckless Congress and contrary to the system of checks and balances our founding fathers established. Congress' abdication of their constitutional duty to pass a new Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) demonstrates Congress' unwillingness to put our military personnel over their own political careers and Congress' failure to pass a Declaration of War is a failure to get a buy in from the American people.

President Obama requested Congress pass a new AUMF, yet maintains a new AUMF is unnecessary primarily because Congress passed an AUMF against Al Qaeda, the Islamic State's forerunner, after the Sept. 11th attacks almost 15 years ago. This legal justification conveniently ignores that Al Qaeda is currently in an actual ground war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. An active duty army captain deployed in Kuwait in support of the Islamic State war effort recently sued the Obama administration for violating the War Powers Resolution, which Congress made law in 1973 in response to President Nixon sending our military into Cambodia without congressional authorization. The War Powers Resolution allows presidents only 60 days to use our military without an AUMF, a Declaration of War, or in response to a "national emergency" caused by an attack. Last month, the Obama administration absurdly responded that Congress ratified the Islamic State war effort by appropriating billions of dollars in support of operations in the annual, several hundred paged Defense Appropriations Bill, which all members of Congress usually do not have time to read prior to it being voted on after the twelfth hour.

Virginia Senator and vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine has rejected the administration's legal theories and criticized Congress for not passing a new AUMF against the Islamic State. However, Michele Flournoy, Hillary Clinton's expected secretary of defense, has said she would deploy more U.S. troops to establish a "no bomb" zone to retaliate with standoff weapons, like cruise missiles, against Syrian forward operating bases if Syrian President Bashar Al Assad continued to bomb U.S. backed rebels. A "no bomb" zone is far smaller in scale than establishing a "no fly" zone to protect the Syrian people from the Assad regime, which requires destroying Syrian aircraft on airbases that possibly house some Russian forces, and protect American pilots from anti-aircraft weapons, which requires destroying Assad's air defense systems embedded in Syria's population centers. This incremental "no bomb" zone approach for more than 60 days would lack any imaginable legal justification given that in August 2013, only the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had the fortitude to vote on an AUMF authorizing airstrikes against Assad's forces after he used chemical weapons against his own people.

Opposed to the significant mission creep proposed by Ms. Flournoy, Donald Trump is calling for Congress to formally declare war against the Islamic State. I would give Trump credit if Congress voted on a Declaration of War, but I sincerely doubt Trump is committed to getting a buy in from the American people with a draft, homefront war effort, and higher taxes to pay for everything. Anything less is not just hollow semantics, but a redux of the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq war AUMFs continuing the past decade and a half of less than 1 percent of Americans being connected to our wars whose costs are being passed off to future generations. I want to be clear that I would oppose a Declaration of War because the Islamic State does not pose an existential threat to the United States and doing so would do little to stabilize the Middle East. The Islamic State's barbaric tactics account for far fewer deaths than Assad's atrocities against his own people, which make the Syrian regime by far the largest, overt, military aggressor destabilizing the region.

Although the war I fought in a decade ago as an Iraqi Army battalion combat advisor was waged under a false pretext, at least I can hold the politicians that voted for it accountable. The American combat advisors that began accompanying Iraqi Army battalions last month in preparation for the eventual assault to retake Mosul lack even this basic accountability that our democracy rests upon. I cannot begin to imagine what members of Congress say of their abysmal failure when consoling the families of the 17 Americans that have died in operations against the Islamic State.