President Barack Obama on Wednesday formally asked Congress for expansive authorization of the U.S.-led war on ISIS, including a green-light for open-ended and geographically limitless military operations.
While lawmakers in Washington discuss details of the proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF), analysts point out that meaningful debate about the war itself has been left completely off the table.
"This shows that Congress is not even debating the issue of force," Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams. "They are simply debating some small questions of limits or not limits."
Raed Jarrar, expert on Middle East politics and Policy Impact Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams that the text of Obama's proposed AUMF is a "worst case scenario" because it "doesn't place any limitations on war."
"The bottom line is, you cannot bomb extremism out of existence."
—Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy StudiesContents of the President's Proposal
Obama submitted the AUMF despite his controversial claim that he does not, legally, need to put use of military force to a vote.
- Authorization of three more years of military force, extending the war to the next administration, which could then seek reauthorization.
- Permission to deploy troops, with the exception of "enduring offensive ground combat operations." Analysts have pointed out that this vaguely-worded prohibition would likely open the door to significant boots on the ground. "The limits on ground troops are as vague as they were in 2001," said Bennis. "Ground troops are ground troops. Once they are on the ground, you don't always get to chose whether they fight or not."
- War against "individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside [ISIS] or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners." Similar to the 2001 AUMF, this defines the "enemy" in extremely broad terms.
- No geographical limitations.
- Repeal of the 2002 AUMF, which authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq and use of force against Saddam Hussein, but no repeal of the controversial 2001 AUMF, which was passed in the wake of September 11th, 2001 and has been used to justify wars and troops deployments from Afghanistan to Somalia to Ethopia.
Several key details are omitted from the proposal. They include:
- Clear definition of military objective and what "winning" looks like.
- Discussion of the U.S.-led air war, which, in the past six months, has launched at least 2,361 bombings in Iraq and Syria.
- Commitment to transparency regarding civilian deaths, nature of U.S. warfare, and military branches conducting operations.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement publicly praising the AUMF proposal as "important for our country" and urged Congress to work together on its passage.
"This is truly an authorization for another endless war."
—Raed Jarrar, American Friends Service CommitteeRepresentative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released a statement on Wednesday in which he applauded the president for the proposal but objected to the lack of limitations. Schiff urged a sunset for the 2001 AUMF (which the president has previously criticized) and expressed concerns over the lack of "geographic limitation and a broad definition of associated forces."
Meanwhile, Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the House, told reporters after a meeting with Republican representatives, "I’m not sure the strategy that has been outlined will accomplish the mission the president says he wants to accomplish."
Objection to Endless War
Outside of the White House and Capitol Hill, grassroots organizations, legal experts, and regional analysts expressed deep concerns about the request, including objections to its specific contents and omissions, as well as overall opposition to the war itself.
Jarrar pointed out, "There are no geographic limitations or target limitations, and this even allows for ground troops to be involved in the war. This proposal doesn't talk about the fact that the U.S. has been arming and equipping proxy groups accused of gross human rights violations and acts, as if these proxy groups don't exist. This is truly an authorization for another endless war."
Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, added in statement released Wednesday that the proposal "fails to make clear that the new enactment will be the exclusive authority for the use of military force against ISIS, which leaves open the possibility that the executive branch will continue to rely inappropriately on the authorization that Congress passed in 2001."
Furthermore, Anders noted that the lack of geographical limitations means that "the executive branch may interpret it to authorize the use of force far from the battlefield in Iraq."
The Win Without War Coalition released a statement which urges Congress "to reject the pursuit of a military solution to a conflict that does not have one."
"American bombs have been falling on the Middle East for decades and they have only served to destabilize the region and prolong conflicts," the statement continues. "[T]he idea that more of the same is going to produce a different result is the definition of insanity."
According to Bennis, "The bottom line is, you cannot bomb extremism out of existence. You can bomb people and kill them. Obama has to decide on his legacy. Does he want the legacy that he was the president to end wars, or does he want to be the president who makes wars endless?"