Earlier today, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed the Senate Joint Resolution 44 – Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by a party-line roll-call vote of 10 to 8.
The resolution authorizes the use of force in Iraq and Syria while rejecting ground combat operations already ruled out by the President. However, it includes exceptions to the prohibition of troops on the ground large enough to drive a battalion through: except when necessary to protect U.S. military personnel or U.S. citizens whose lives are directly endangered by ISIL, and other specific circumstances. Additionally, the president must report to Congress at least once every 60 days on specific actions taken Iraq and Syria. The enemy is identified as “associated persons or forces” with ISIL, meaning “individuals and organizations fighting for or on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or a closely-related successor entity.”
The legality of Obama’s current campaign in Iraq and Syria is contested. The president has been using the out-of-date 2001 AUMF against Al-Qaeda, passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks, to justify military actions against ISIL, or as Secretary Kerry called it in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Daesh. The word ‘Daesh’ is a transliteration of the Arabic acronym for ISIL. Many Arabic-language media outlets prefer to use this term because it distances the terrorist organization from the practice of Islam.
In his testimony on December 19th, Kerry said he supports the three-year limitation proposed by Menendez, “subject to provisions for extension that [the Administration] would be happy to discuss.”
The Administration does not want to be hampered by any hard limitations on the duration of our involvement in the region, the ability to resort to combat operations if necessary, or an expansion of offensive actions to other countries.
The proposed AUMF against ISIL would repeal the 2002 AUMF against Iraq but says nothing about the 2001 AUMF.
During today’s hearing, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) spoke of the necessity to define unambiguously the enemy and the objectives of this war. He also spoke out against limiting the AUMF to three years, as proposed in the Act, suggesting that this would reveal to our enemies what we are willing and unwilling to do to defeat them, and for how long. In essence, he argued to give the President a blank check.
Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) argued, “A three-year authorization creates the greatest accounting to the Congress to come back, knowing that authorization can be renewed and may need to be.”
As Menendez suggested, sunsetting the authorization after three years would force Congress to revisit the AUMF and ensure the Act stays relevant to strategic realities.
On the point of sending U.S. ground troops back to the region, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) pointed out, “massive amount of ground forces in the middle east ends up creating more enemies than it ends up killing.”
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) highlighted the need for both a military and fiscal strategy, saying that it is “[his] hope that we will keep right in front of us how we will pay for [this] war [against ISIL.]” He also called for the president to release a clear, in-depth strategy as to how he will degrade and defeat ISIL, how much it will cost, and the projected scope and duration of the war.
An amendment to constrain a U.S. campaign geographically was put forward by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). An amendment to limit the authority of the AUMF to one year was proposed by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Senator Paul. Neither amendment passed.
So Democrats, some of whom are skeptical about a new war in Iraq and Syria, voted to authorize the use of military force because the resolution included some limits to presidential action in the region. And Republicans who most support our military involvement voted against the resolution because they felt the president’s hands would be tied.
As Congress plans to adjourn in the next few days, Congress will most likely have to start all over against in 2015 on this or another measure.
Democrats for: Bob Menendez (NJ), Barbara Boxer (CA), Cardin (MD) Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Chris Coons (DE), Dick Durbin (IL), Tom Udall (NM), Chris Murphy (CT), Tim Kaine (VA), Ed Markey (MA)
Republicans against: Bob Corker (TN), James Risch (ID), Marco Rubio (FL), Ron Johnson (WI), Jeff Flake (AZ), John McCain (AZ), John Barrasso (WY), Rand Paul (KY)