Another high-ranking Obama administration official confirmed on Tuesday that the White House's proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the war on ISIS was left intentionally vague to allow for expansive—and potentially limitless—presidential war-making powers.
Since the AUMF was submitted to Congress last month, it has been the topic of debate within and beyond Washington, DC. Many have raised concerns about its broad terms, which impose no geographic limitations, broadly define the "enemy," allow for deployment of ground combat forces, and leave the controversial 2001 AUMF intact.
The Obama administration has waffled on just how extensive the powers granted in the proposed AUMF are. When he initially submitted the proposal on February 11, Obama claimed it "would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan."
However, White House Press Secretary Joshua Earnest stated the same day that the proposed AUMF's language was left intentionally vague because "we believe it's important that there aren't overly burdensome constraints that are placed on the commander in chief."
And just a few weeks later, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry clarified the AUMF indeed allows for the deployment of combat forces, without clarifying concrete limitations to boots-on-the-ground.
Now, Under Secretary of Defense Christine Wormuth—recently appointed by Obama—is wading into the controversy.
At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Wormuth sought to assure hawkish congressional Representative Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) that the AUMF was intended to allow for wide-ranging presidential powers. The exchange was flagged by journalist Goerge Zornick in an article for The Nation.
We’re worried about strategy. Strategy really needs to be larger than just ISIS. I mean, it really is—and I know the president doesn’t want to go there—but it its radical extremism in Islam across the globe that is affecting us, and our friends across the globe. And so I’m worried with AUMF that it’s just on ISIS—does that really, is that really the strategy? That’s part of the strategy, but is that really where we need to be? Because you see it first-hand, across the globe. And I know that all the combatant commands talk about it, I’m sure.
Why don’t I take a crack at this quickly and then have General Austin pile on. The AUMF proposal, as I’m sure you’re aware, doesn’t have a geographic limitation. And that was very deliberate, to address exactly the kinds of concerns that you have. Similarly there is the associated forces, which is designed to give us some breadth and discretion as to who we go after.
Furthermore, in written testimony (pdf) presented to the hearing, Wormuth claimed that the AUMF "does authorize the full range of activities we anticipate needing in the fight against ISIL. It provides DoD with the authority and flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or Special Forces operations to take military action against ISIL leadership."
Critics have warned that, if the 2001 AUMF is any indication, ill-defined language will be abused to wage potentially global war.
Passed after the September 11th attacks, the 2001 legislation has been invoked by the Bush and Obama administrations to authorize the ongoing war in Afghanistan; covert drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia; military intervention in countries from Ethiopia to Iraq; and indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram prison.