A Vote on Obama's Latest Unauthorized War Is Put on Hold
November 4, 2015
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Burgess Everett / Politico & Gene Healy / The Cato Institute
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R -TN) suggested today that he is open to the idea of a vote on an Authorization for the Use of Military Forces against ISIS. Corker's comments suggest this was unlikely, however, since he believes there is "no urgency" for such an authorization -- it "feels like they have the authority they need" without a Congressional vote.
Sen. Corker: Open to ISIS War Vote, But 'No Urgency'
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(November 3, 2015) -- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R -TN) suggested today that he is open to the idea of a vote on an Authorization for the Use of Military Forces (AUMF) against ISIS, and has scheduled a briefing later this week with the Obama Administration on the possibility.
His comments suggested this was unlikely, however, saying he believes there is "no urgency" for such an authorization unless the administrations says they need additional authority for the war, saying it "feels like they have the authority they need" without a Congressional vote.
Under the War Powers Act, the president is obliged to seek authorization within 60 days of an overseas war, but with the ISIS war launched amid mid-term election season last year, no vote ever took place. Interestingly, the proposed AUMF that previously got out of committee in the Senate explicitly banned the use of ground troops in Syria, which was announced on Friday.
The move into Syria has raised at least some calls for a proper AUMF vote finally, over a year after the war began, but Sen. Corker's comments suggest the leadership is still at best ambivalent about following the law on the war, and content to see the administration continue unilaterally.
Corker Weighs War Authorization Measure for ISIL Fight
Burgess Everett / Politico
(November 3, 2015) -- Lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee want a closed briefing on the Obama administration's Syria policy before deciding whether to pursue a vote to approve the ongoing US campaign against the Islamic State.
In an interview, Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that while he remains open to writing an Authorization of Military Force for the conflict with ISIL, he feels no urgency until and unless the administration tells him they need additional authorities. As the committee weighs a vote, panel members are hoping to be briefed late this week by officials from the State Department and Special Forces.
"We've scheduled a detailed briefing this week and if additional authorities are needed it's something we'll look at it," Corker said. "It appears to me that the people that have been added into a conflict are still conducting operations against ISIS. And everyone in the administration that's been up here ... feels like they have the authority they need to take on ISIS."
The recent announcement that 50 US troops are on the ground in Syria, even as an American soldier was killed in Iraq, elicited a new round of calls from committee Democrats for an authorization vote.
Ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) bashed the "continued reliance on the 2001 authorization for the use of military force, which was passed in the wake of the 9-11 attacks to specifically counter Al Qaeda."
But for Corker, the calculation is more complicated. While he believes the current AUMF for the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan last decade cover the ongoing conflict and ISIL, he's not opposed to having a debate about the matter. But he and others on the panel are still not sure the committee can pass a resolution.
Starting a discussion of war, and then becoming bogged down and failing to pass something would perhaps be the worst outcome for the amiable chairman who continues to win plaudits from Democrats.
"I get that he has an institutional concern about the committee getting into something and being hopelessly divided," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a major proponent of starting up a debate.
"My feeling is this thing keeps growing and expanding: Numbers of countries, numbers of troops, combat deaths, dollars spent, refugee crisis, Russia getting into the theater . . . what the debate will do is it will force the administration in a formal way to put a plan on the table."
Corker said one caveat is the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: If the administration begins targeting him as well as ISIL, "that is a very different conversation" for the committee to have.
Corker hosted Secretary of State John Kerry last week; his counterpart in the House Ed Royce of California will have a pair of top-ranking State officials in on Wednesday to discuss Russia's role in Syria.
More Mission Creep in an Illegal War
Gene Healy / The Cato Institute
(October 30, 2015) -- In the 15 months since the president unilaterally launched our latest war in the Middle East, he's repeatedly pledged that he wouldn't put US "boots on the ground" in Syria. As he told congressional leaders on September 3, 2014, "the military plan that has been developed" is limited, and doesn't require ground forces.
Alas, if you liked that plan, you can't keep it. Earlier today, the Obama administration announced the deployment of US Special Forces to Northern Syria to assist Kurdish troops in the fight against ISIS.
US forces will number "fewer than 50," in an "advise and assist" capacity; they "do not have a combat mission," according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest. Granted, when "advise and assist" missions look like this, it can be hard for us civilians to tell the difference.
Asked about the legal authorization for the deployment, Earnest insisted: "Congress in 2001 did give the executive branch the authority to take this action. There's no debating that."
It's true that there hasn't been anything resembling a genuine congressional debate over America's war against ISIS. But the administration's legal claim is eminently debatable. It's based on the 2001 authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, the Congress passed three days after 9/11, targeting those who "planned, authorized, [or] committed" the attacks (Al Qaeda) and those who "aided" or "harbored" them (the Taliban).
In 2013, Obama administration officials told the Washington Post that they were "increasingly concerned the law is being stretched to its legal breaking point." That was before they'd stretched it still further, 15 months later, to justify war against ISIS, a group that's been denounced and excommunicated by Al Qaeda and is engaged in open warfare with them.
Headlines like "ISIS Beheads Leader of Al Qaeda Offshoot Nusra Front," or "Petraeus: Use Al Qaeda Fighters to Beat ISIS" might give you cause to wonder -- or even debate! -- whether this is the same enemy Congress authorized President Bush to wage war against, back before Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPod.
In the Obama theory of constitutional war powers, Congress gets a vote, but it's one Congress, one vote, one time. This is not how constitutional democracies are supposed to go to war. But it's how we've drifted into a war that the Army chief of staff has said will last "10 to 20 years."
Sooner or later, we'll have cause to regret the normalization of perpetual presidential war, but any congressional debate we get will occur only after the damage has already been done.
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