Posted by on February 20, 2015 in Blog

By Eve Soliman
Winter Intern, 2015

Obama’s proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL is long overdue. Since U.S. military action against ISIL began on Aug. 8, 2014 we have launched 1,900 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Unsettlingly, our military campaign still lacks Congressional backing.

Sent to Congress last week, President Obama’s AUMF request is the first proposal asking Congress to authorize military force in almost thirteen years. The three key points from the AUMF proposal against ISIL are: 1) it limits the campaign to a time frame which would requires Congress to reauthorize continued involvement after three years; 2) it does not include authorization to use ground troops, specifically saying “the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations and,”; 3)it would repeal the 2002 AUMF regarding military force in Iraq, originally issued by Congress to combat Saddam Hussein. The limited time frame also differentiates Obama’s campaign against ISIL from President Bush’s 2001 and 2002 AUMF’s that had no time restriction.

Although Obama’s AUMF proposal is long overdue, there are several problematic aspects that arise from the language and remaining questions. First, the AUMF doesn’t limit use of force against the “associated forces” of ISIL, which are broadly defined as any “individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside ISIL or any closely-related successor entity in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Also, there are no territorial restrictions to the use of military actions in the AUMF against ISIL. The broad definition of “associated forces” along with the lack of specific geographic location makes the proposal frightening. Another disturbing element is that the proposal repeals the 2002 AUMF but keeps the 2001 AUMF in place and heavily relies on it for legitimacy. The 2001 AUMF has been used to authorize military action against terrorist organizations world-wide in response to the 9/11 attacks and has been expanded beyond its original scope to allow for the invasion of Afghanistan, and action in the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia and now Syria. Ironically, Obama has gone on record opposing the 2001 AUMF, which he is now using to legally justify beginning combat against ISIL without specific Congressional approval.

The AUMF against ISIL is an important step in the right direction, but its ambiguity leads to some serious concerns. It has accomplished a rare feat by unifying both parties in opposition to the proposal, but for diametrically opposed reasons. The Democrats are concerned that the proposed AUMF grants the executive branch too much authority and discretion for war, and the Republicans believe the proposal is too limiting with the ban on “enduring offensive ground operations.” Over the next weeks Congress and the White House will work together to refine the language in the AUMF to try to broker a compromise. It is important they succeed. An AUMF against ISIL upholds the importance of Congressional oversight on military actions and ensures that checks and balances between the branches of government remain an important feature of American democracy. In order for the U.S. to move forward in a unified fight abroad, both the White House and Congressional representatives need to work together to clarify the terms of the authorization and stand together against ISIL.