Thursday, February 12, 2015

Obama's New AUMF Lacks Much Needed Oomph

Yesterday, in a letter to the United States Congress, President Obama formally requested an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the fight against the Islamic State. Obama has been operating under and defending the current strategy against ISIS as within the scope of the two AUMFs passed under President Bush: the 2001 AUMF, which authorized combat operations in Afghanistan, and the 2002 AUMF, which authorized the Iraq War from 2003-2011. The President has sufficient authority as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to conduct the current operations against ISIS, but opposition has grown louder in the face of the terrorists’ expansion into Syria.

The AUMF proposed by the Obama Administration limits authorization to three years, thus avoiding embroiling the US in large-scale ground combat operations with no end in sight, which was the case with the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The President’s AUMF does not address the enduring 2001 and 2002 AUMFs and while it restricts the use of ground combat operations, it also excludes existing ground troops (ex. the US military personnel currently in Iraq) from these restrictions. This AUMF would allow the President to deploy new military personnel in the roles of intelligence collection and sharing, advisers, special operations forces, combat search and rescue personnel and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to assist US air strikes. Lastly, this AUMF would sunset the 2002 AUMF, but not the 2001 AUMF, as the latter serves as legal justification for the broader war on terror.

Two aspects of this proposal are striking: it commits President Obama’s successor to operating under its terms for at least the first year of office; and it also does not significantly expand existing efforts against ISIS in any way. The proposed AUMF seems to lend political cover to ongoing operations against ISIS, which are comprised primarily of targeted airstrikes and operations against ISIS under Operation Inherent Resolve. This strategy has also placed upwards of 1,400 US military personnel in Iraq and costs on average $8.4 million per day.

The current strategy, according to President Obama’s announcement last September is to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. The new AUMF proposes a continuation of this strategy, even through our current efforts seem to be yielding very little in the way of military gains against this fluid enemy. The existing military operations against ISIS will not accomplish the intended goal of annihilating the terrorist group as it has proven much more dynamic, adaptable, and better funded and staffed than previous threats.

Containing, let alone defeating, ISIS will require a robust and much more comprehensive military effort, which is possible under the terms of the current AUMF, but which may not necessarily be palatable to the American public. The new AUMF promises to prevent another open-ended military commitment to the region, but perhaps also promises to prevent significant victories against this terrorist outfit.

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