February 11, 2015

President Obama's draft Authorization for Use of Military Force - my comments

Today, President Barack Obama sent a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution to the Congress, accompanied by a letter explaining why he wants such a resolution. You can read the complete text of the letter and the text of the draft on the White House website.

The letter and draft AUMF provide some insights into the President's view of the current situation facing the United States and his plans to address the threat posed by the group calling itself the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The government refers to them as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL - they are the same entity.

I am concerned with the language in both the letter and the draft AUMF. I believe the President needs an AUMF to legally and properly prosecute military operations against ISIS, but I am concerned that the President is more concerned with placing arbitrary limits on his ability to adequately defeat the threat posed by the Islamist group.

Let's take a look some text in the letter.


I have directed a comprehensive and sustained strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL. As part of this strategy, U.S. military forces are conducting a systematic campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. Although existing statutes provide me with the authority I need to take these actions, I have repeatedly expressed my commitment to working with the Congress to pass a bipartisan authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIL.
End quote

Comment: As a military analyst, I remain convinced and concerned that there is no "comprehensive and sustained strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL." The U.S.-led coalition air campaign is, to be kind, anemic at best and "just going through the motions" at worst.

It is obvious to any cogent observer that the current American/coalition strategy is not working. Despite some moderate slowdown of ISIS's operations in Iraq and Syria (including the outright defeat of ISIS at Kobani), the group continues to mount offensive operations and attract record numbers of recruits, estimated to be over 20,000 in the last few months, the same months when the group carried out its most brutal and heinous acts. Even with complete U.S.-led coalition control of the air, ISIS has rebuffed most of the Iraqi army and security force attacks, and has even moved on the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

While I disagree with the President's assertion that he has the authority to continue military operations, I applaud his inclusion of Congress in this effort. Congress declares war - an AUMF is about as close as we get this days - and the Executive branch prosecutes it. Let's get Congress on record as to who supports addressing this real threat and who chooses to shirk their constitutional responsibilities.

My Administration's draft AUMF would not authorize long‑term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations. The authorization I propose would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving U.S. or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership. It would also authorize the use of U.S. forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or the provision of operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces.
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Comment: Always with the swipe at the Bush Administration - grow up. This whole paragraph is a litany of things the inner circle at the Obama White House wants the Congress to proscribe so they have cover when they do not take appropriate, required military actions that do not adhere to their political narrative. This language tries again to commit American forces to combat operations and not call them combat operations.

This is ludicrous. If the Congress authorizes the use of military force, it authorizes the President to use the force the Commander in Chief (hopefully listening to his senior military advisers, not his political insiders) deems necessary. It is foolish to limit what operations the President can order - the military needs the flexibility to act and react to changing situations, exploit opportunities and be effective without adhering to politically defined arbitrary restrictions.

If the President honestly believes that "local forces" are going to be effective in Iraq and Syria, I would beg to differ. While there is a chance that Iraqi forces (and I include the Iraqi Kurds in that mix) supported by U.S.-led coalition airpower, increased training and special forces operations, might be able to turn back ISIS in Iraq, Syria is a different matter.

The "moderate" Free Syrian Army is not capable of defeating either ISIS or the Syrian armed forces. Regional powers (read: Saudi Arabia and Turkey) are not going to introduce ground forces without American boots on the ground - it is delusional to think otherwise.

If ISIS is in fact the "grave threat" the President claims (his words), at some point, we are going to have to address it ourselves. Mr President, you cannot outsource the security of the United States.

Now some comments on the draft AUMF resolution itself.

Whereas President Obama has made clear that in this campaign it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground instead of large-scale deployments of U.S. ground forces ... The authority granted in subsection (a) does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.
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Comment: Well, the President has made it clear that he wants it to be more effective to use unique American capabilities, but there is no evidence that I have seen that makes his wishes the truth. Again, if there is a significant threat to American interests, then the use of American troops to address that threat should always be an option. Likewise, the ambiguous term "enduring offensive ground combat operations" is meaningless.

If the Congress is going to in effect declare war, why ask for limitations on the Executive branch's authority or capability to wage said war? It almost appears that the President is looking for an excuse to not exercise his authority to the fullest and have a convenient scapegoat if and when the situation worsens.

This authorization for the use of military force shall terminate three years after the date of the enactment of this joint resolution, unless reauthorized.
End quote

Hasn't this Administration learned that telegraphing date certain deadlines is a bad idea? When it told the Iraqis that we were leaving in 2011, al-Qa'idah in Iraq merely waited until that date, reconstituted itself and later became what is now known as ISIS.

Am I saying that the announcement that the United States would fully withdraw all of its forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 - which it did - led to the creation of the ISIS, the creation of the crisis in which we find ourselves today? Yes, I am saying just that.

The AUMF as written is not what we need - hopefully the Congress will turn it into that document. If we are going to take the fight to ISIS, then give the President the means to take the fight to ISIS - no holds barred, and hold him accountable for that fight.