War Authorization Dies in House But US Bombs Keep Falling on Iraq and Syria
Analysts say that killing of proposed legislation exposes 'political posturing on all sides'
President Barack Obama's controversial proposal for the authorization for use of military force (AUMF) in the war on ISIS, submitted to Congress in February, is now officially dead in the House.
However, its floundering has no bearing on the war itself, which has now entered its 36th week, with at least 3,249 coalition bombings in Iraq and Syria so far, including 17 reported on April 12th and 13th alone.
This reveals—analysts say—the proposal was nothing more than a political stunt in the first place, aimed at drumming up support for intervention while warding off real limits to the war.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Monday that at this point it does not look like the proposed AUMF will get the 218 votes needed to pass the lower chamber, meaning it is unlikely to even reach the House floor for a vote. Citing the Saudi-led siege and bombing campaign on Yemen, McCarthy indicated that an alternative version, granting even more war powers, will be floated from the right.
The draft had come under attack from hardliners, who charge the war powers it grants are not extensive enough, particularly where it comes to deployments of ground troops. Some Democratic lawmakers, on the other hand, raised concerns that the AUMF's vague wording would grant excessively broad powers.
Voices from the concerned grassroots, calling for a rejection of war altogether, as well as an overall reversal in course from open-ended military aggression, have been consistently left out of the debate.
The proposed AUMF language called for the green-lighting of geographically limitless military operations, further deployments of ground troops, and years of intervention against a vaguely defined enemy.
Furthermore, it would have imposed no limits to the 2001 AUMF, which was passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks and has been invoked to authorize wars from Afghanistan to Pakistan to Somalia.
The White House, in fact, has maintained that the 2001 AUMF already gives the president legal cover for the ongoing war—a claim that is widely contested among international law experts.
Nonetheless, the administration has held that it wanted Congress to approve the AUMF not because it legally needs the approval, but to "show the world we are united in our resolve," as the president put it in mid-February.
The proposal, however, was met with anything but a unified response from within Washington, and insider disagreement appears to have squashed this version of the legislation.
Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams that what we are seeing "is political posturing on all sides."
"The Obama administration says we want authorization to show the world we speak in one voice," said Bennis. "Congress says we want new authorization because we want a say, because they can't agree on more or fewer restrictions. They are saying nothing about how the administration says that the AUMF doesn't change anything. The massive level of public anti-war sentiment is not being reflected."
"They are chasing each others' tails while war continues to rage across the region," Bennis added.
Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief for Lawfare, on Tuesday evaluated Obama's political maneuvering, claiming that "because of the way [Obama] postured the matter, nothing actually hinges for Obama on congressional passage of a new AUMF; the President, after all, claims the authority to do everything he wants to do against ISIL under current authorities."
Wittes continued, "Obama, in other words, put himself in a position in which congressional action would strengthen his hands and congressional inaction—always the likeliest outcome these days—would also strengthen his hand, or at least not weaken it."
But Bennis said that what some praise as clever political maneuvering in fact amounts to a political game at the expense of the people impacted by U.S.-led and backed wars.
"The escalation of the war is making everything worse and not better," said Bennis. "The bombings the U.S. is carrying out, as well as allies such as Saudi Arabia in Yemen, are causing serious civilian casualties, with exact numbers unknown because the U.S. says we don't do body counts."