Opposition to President Barack Obama's request to authorize another endless war in the Middle East continues to build, with progressives charging that the draft resolution is far too broad and anti-war activists mobilizing to defeat the measure.
As Common Dreams has reported, the proposed authorization for use of military force (AUMF) gives approval for open-ended and geographically limitless military operations. Its vague wording leaves the door open to use of ground troops, which the administration has previously vowed to avoid, and does nothing to repeal the sweeping 2001 AUMF, which is still being used to justify ongoing military actions in various regions around the world.
"The current war over religion in the Middle East could make the Vietnam War look like a Sunday School picnic."
—Paul Findley, former member of Congress
"This Resolution sets a dangerous precedent," said Francis Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law and author of Tackling America’s Toughest Questions. "Up until the 2001 AUMF, all War Powers Resolutions had been adopted with respect to a State, not alleged terrorist organizations that can operate anywhere in the world as defined by the President."
But "[t]his Resolution continues in that dangerous path, basically substituting ISIS for al-Qaeda and continuing to wage a global war on terrorism," Boyle continued. "So if Obama cannot plausibly invoke the 2001 Resolution because there is no connection to 9/11 as required therein, he will simply invoke this Resolution. Between the two resolutions you can have the U.S. government waging war all over the world."
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), which has repeatedly called for a debate on the use of force against the Islamic State, or ISIS, released a statement detailing their opposition on Friday.
"The devastating and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us that when we give military authority to the executive, it should not be a blank check," said CPC co-chairs Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and CPC Peace and Security Task Force chair Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). "Prolonged military action requires robust debate and authorization from Congress, so we are glad that President Obama has presented a proposal. One of Congress’s most important roles is to declare war, and an AUMF is a declaration of war."
Unfortunately, the authorization proposed by the president this week is too broad. In order to ensure meaningful limits on executive branch authority, an AUMF should at a minimum contain a clear objective and geographical limitations. It should also include an enforceable ban on the deployment of ground troops with exception for only the most limited of operations, unambiguous language, and a repeal of the 2001 AUMF.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is one of the only U.S. senators to have offered a firm position on the AUMF.
"I oppose sending U.S. ground troops into combat in another bloody war in the Middle East," he said Wednesday. "I therefore cannot support the resolution in its current form without clearer limitations on the role of U.S. combat troops."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), meanwhile, said she was still undecided on the matter.
In a vague statement to The Hill, Warren waffled: "I am deeply concerned by the rise of ISIS, and I support a strong, coordinated response—but I also believe it is critical for those nations in the region that are most immediately affected by the rise of ISIS to play a leading role in this fight, and I do not want America to be dragged into another ground war in the Middle East."
Some on the right claim the AUMF is too restrictive. "The president has tied his own hands and wants to tie his hands even further with the authorization that he sent up here," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters on Thursday.
Several members of Congress applauded the fact that the debate was taking place in the first place.
But on MSNBC on Thursday evening, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies said that while minute details are now being scrutinized, the big picture issues are getting lost.
She argued: "Nobody is actually saying, right now, there should not be a military component—despite what we've learned form the years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drone wars in Somalia and Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere...the air war in Libya. They all failed. They're not going to win this time. You cannot bomb extremism. You can bomb people—some extremists—and kill them, but that doesn't wipe out the problem. It just means that it spreads."
Which is why Congress should get rid of the 2001 AUMF completely and reject outright the proposal currently on the table, said Paul Findley, former member of Congress from Illinois for 22 years and a principal author of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, passed during the Vietnam War era and designed to limit the president's power to wage war without Congressional approval.
"If I were still in Congress I would oppose any resolution that authorizes further involvement there," Findley stated. "Our forces have been killing Muslims by the tens of thousands for the past decade in the misleading label of anti-terrorism. Bombing kills innocent people whose friends are furious over these killings."
Obama's request "has greater potential for trouble than the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1964 that I voted for, only after getting Republican Leader Gerald Ford's assurance that it was not the equivalent of a declaration of war [on Vietnam]," he said, adding: "The current war over religion in the Middle East could make the Vietnam War look like a Sunday School picnic."