Amid a dearth of congressional debate, and fresh announcements of more troop deployments to Iraq, a group of bipartisan lawmakers is pushing yet another piece of legislation authorizing open-ended and geographically-limitless war against the Islamic State or ISIL.
Introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) this week, the new authorization for use of military force (AUMF) is being framed by its backers as a bid to jump-start a real debate over the war and pursue a "narrow" mission.
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"This is a bad AUMF," Raed Jarrar, policy impact coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams. "But taking one step back, the idea of the use of force in Iraq and Syria is a bad idea to start with. Even if they came up with a better AUMF, the use of force is still bad idea. This is missing from the debate."
Here are key provisions of the legislation:
- Ill-defined enemy, limitless battlefield: The text authorizes force against "any individual or organization that presents a direct threat to members of the United States Armed Forces, coalition partner forces, or forces trained by the coalition, in their fight against ISIL" and specifies no geographical bounds. Analysts warn this broad language could be used justify worldwide war against any group the U.S. claims is affiliated with ISIL or poses a threat, including those in Libya and Nigeria, and even the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
- Troop deployments: The text allows the deployment of "significant ground troops" to protect U.S. citizens from "imminent threat," but says that significant troops can not be deployed for other reasons. Critics say that the limitations included in this provision are weak, as there are U.S. citizens all over the world, and it is unclear what "imminent threat" means. By permitting "significant" deployments, this provision appears to go beyond what Obama requested in his mid-February AUMF proposal.
- No repeal of 2001 AUMF: The proposal, slated to sunset in three years, leaves in place the controversial 2001 AUMF, which has been expansively interpreted since it was passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks to justify war and military intervention worldwide, from Pakistan to Somalia to Afghanistan. While the new legislation declares itself to supersede the authority of the 2001 AUMF, critics say this provision is meaningless. "In three years, the next administration can just refer back to the 2001 AUMF for authority," said Jarrar. "That's what the Obama administration has been doing for the last ten months."
Stephen Miles of advocacy organization Win Without War told Common Dreams, "Unfortunately the specifics fall short and leave the door open to too large of a military conflict." He added that U.S. efforts "continue to be solely focused on a military option."
Miles places more hope in a resolution introduced by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), which he said could force a real congressional discussion of the war itself. The bill calls for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq and Syria and could be used to force a debate by invoking authorities under the 1973 War Powers Resolution—which checks the president's power to launch military attacks.
Meanwhile it is not clear what consequence, if any, the new AUMF proposal will have for the war itself, which has continued to escalate with no congressional vote and despite the floundering of Obama's request for war powers. The Obama administration, for its part, has maintained the controversial position that passing an AUMF is a good symbolic gesture, but not legally mandatory.
According to Jarrar, "This new AUMF is an empty gesture that has no teeth and no limitations."