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reason: So the American forces that were used in Libya, that’s clearly unconstitutional?
Amash: Yeah, clearly unconstitutional.
reason: What about in Afghanistan and Iraq? Because there was an authorization for the use of military force. Is that still binding? What’s wrong with that as a blank check for the president to keep prosecuting the war on terror?
Amash: I think it’s okay for Congress to give authorizations that—it doesn’t have to read “Declaration of War.” I think what the Founders really intended was that Congress would be the starting point for all this. So whether you call it an authorization or a declaration of war is not as big a deal to me. But the war in Afghanistan, that’s the longest war in U.S history, and now—
reason: Should we have invaded Afghanistan?
Amash: I think so, at the time. And it should have been for a limited purpose: to take out the terrorists who targeted us on 9/11.
reason: You have been an outspoken critic of the use of drones, particularly in countries we’re not officially at war with. But going after bin Laden in Pakistan, say: Is that legal under the authorization that sanctioned intervening in Afghanistan?
Amash: I think so, to go after bin Laden. He was clearly in charge of the operation and I think it was legal to go after him. There are a lot of other situations where it’s more questionable. If we’re going after people who have nothing to do with 9/11, whether they are terrorists or not, it’s the president’s job to come back to Congress and say, “This is who we’re going after and this is why,” and for Congress to give the authorization.
reason: You were 21 when 9/11 happened. Was that a formative experience for you, in terms of how you thought about politics and America’s role in the world?
Amash: It had a big impact on me. I think I cried for six days. It was not a small deal to me when that happened, like for every American. It got me more interested in politics. I don’t think I developed some of my more libertarian leanings in a clear way until I was well out of college, well out of law school even. It did have a big impact on my life. I felt like this country is important. It is the beacon of liberty for the world.
reason: Do you think the 9/11 attacks were a result of blowback?
Amash: I think you can’t blame everything on blowback and you also can’t [say] our actions overseas don’t have an impact on other people. You’ve got to look at the totality of it. Certainly there are things that we do overseas that incite people and get people upset. That doesn’t give them any justification to come here and commit terrorist attacks against innocent people. But we need to look at our foreign policy and make sure we’re not riling people up.
reason: Here we are a dozen years after 9/11 and Iran and Syria are our front-burner foreign policy issues. What should we be doing with Syria? Here we have a dictator who is a horrible, horrible leader who commits atrocities on a daily basis, but what does that mean to the United States?
Amash: Well, my mom is Syrian so I understand the situation a little bit. I think, of course, that Assad is a dictator. What his regime is doing is horrible. They are committing war crimes against the people on a daily basis. But the fact is that our national defense should be used for our defense here in the United States. And it’s very dangerous if we get in the habit of deciding who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.
Because as bad as Assad is, you don’t know who is going to come and replace him. They may be just as bad, and suddenly you’ve helped arm people who are going to commit the same atrocities and maybe come use [those arms] against the United States. You have to be careful when you get involved in this stuff. If there’s a clear threat to the United States, then the president should come to Congress and get the authorization necessary.