Why We Need a New Declaration of War Regarding ISIS

Enough already with fighting the "long war" against terrorism in the "passive voice."


Over at Bloomberg View, Eli Lake has an excellent and important piece sussing out calls for a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) regarding the war we've been fighting against the Islamic State since August 2014.

As it stands, Barack Obama is claiming that the AUMF passed days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 gives him whatever authority he needs to do whatever he wants. The original declaration authorizes the president 

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.

In the fight against ISIS, this is clearly a ridiculous presumption. ISIS as we know it didn't even exist in 2001 and its precursor group only pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2004, a decade before the terrorist group declared a caliphate covering parts of Syria and Iraq.

Lake writes that both pro-war and anti-war Americans should support a new AUMF:

For the hawks, a new war resolution could get colleagues who were not legislators in 2001 on record to support "the long war." This war is fought in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of it is also fought in the shadows, using special operations forces, drone strikes and other kinds of intelligence actions. An open debate on all the actions the long war would entail—from drone strikes to electronic eavesdropping—would clarify the extraordinary powers Congress expects the president to use in order to keep the country safe. To hold the vote while the horror of Paris is still fresh in the minds of Congress is an opportunity to give this long war a political legitimacy it now lacks.

For doves, a new AUMF offers a chance for Congress to reassert its role in the war-making process. Obama has largely ignored Congress when it comes to war and peace. Obama went to war in Libya in 2011. After the fact, the House voted down a resolution to authorize that war. Even though his agreement with Iran is one of the most important diplomatic agreements of the 21st century, he opted not to submit it to the Senate as a treaty. Obama's decision to rely on the 2001 AUMF for the current war in Syria and Iraq opens the door for future presidents to stretch its meaning even further.

Indeed, among the strongest continuities between the Bush and Obama regimes is a move to arrogate more and more power to the executive branch. Lake clinches his argument thus:

A new AUMF, particularly if it includes a sunset clause, would force Congress to debate the war against jihadis every few years, ensuring the long war does not become a permanent war.

Ted Cruz, in a classic too-smart-by-half move that helps explain why Americans distrust the government in record numbers, tells Lake that we do indeed need a new, "robust AUMF," but that it's really up to the president to make Congress actually, you know, peform its function and declare war:

"The burden should be on the commander in chief to convince the American people through their representatives in Congress that he has developed an anti-ISIS strategy that is sound and worthy of their support."

Does anyone wonder how and why we get into foreign policy snafus? No one is willing to step up and insist on process or procedure. In some way, perhaps that is on us citizens. Politicians are probably right to intuit that the most important thing when it comes to waging war is being perceived as successful, not whether you've brought your case to Congress (if the president) or actually hemmed in the president's ambition via war powers or purse strings (if Congress).

Read the full article.

And read Lake's 2010 Reason story, "The 9/14 Presidency," which details the slipperiness with which Obama has long exploited that original AUMF.