Senators try to secure authorization for military force against Islamic State

11 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

At Last, Senators Give Bipartisan Push To War Authorization Debate.

Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he’ll try to bridge the differences that have prevented U.S. lawmakers from voting to authorize the war against Islamic State.Democrat and Republican senators are seeking congressional authorization for the use of US military force against the Islamic State, introducing a new measure to Congress on Monday. Senators Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, and Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, are trying to restart legislation for the conflict almost a year after the US first targeted the radical Islamist group outside of Erbil last August.

In a sign of potential bipartisan support, two committee members — Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake — introduced the measure as an amendment to a State Department policy bill. The effort drew quick praise from the White House and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, suggesting Kaine and Flake had succeeded in rekindling interest in the stagnant debate. The stillborn White House plan would have banned “enduring offensive ground operations” and cancelled the 2002 AUMF still in place for the 2003 Iraq war that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein. Many Democratic lawmakers sought provisions constraining President Barack Obama from sending U.S. troops into combat against the terrorists that have seized swaths of Iraq and Syria, while many Republicans wanted language prodding him to do so.

Kaine has been a vocal proponent of a congressional debate and vote on authorizing the war, but Flake has been relatively quiet until now. “Our military has been waging war against ISIL since last September, and Congress has been appropriating funds to pay for those operations,” Flake said in a statement. “It’s past time for Congress to formally voice its support of the mission itself.” Their AUMF has a few core provisions. Of course, more than eight months have passed since the escalation against ISIS began, and more than three months have passed since Obama offered his own proposed AUMF (which many liberals and Dems thought was too broad and too vague, even as many Republicans thought it was too limiting). While the Kaine-Flake amendment would leave a 2001 AUMF in place authorizing the fight against ISIS, it would also introduce a so-called “sunset clause” that would terminate legal authorization after three years.

The Obama administration has pushed for a new authorization, while maintaining that it already has legal authority under a 2001 measure to use force against al-Qaeda, from which Islamic State was an offshoot. As I’ve argued, however, there are still reasons to have this debate. 1) A narrow purpose to protect the lives of U.S. citizens and to provide military support to regional partners in their battle to defeat ISIL. White House press secretary Josh Earnest criticized lawmakers on Tuesday for largely ignoring suggested authorization language the administration proposed last year at the behest of Congress.

That’s important, because Obama’s original claim of authority based on that 2001 AUMF — which was absurd on its face — would have essentially rendered any new AUMF worthless. Regardless, some lawmakers from both parties argue Congress must have a say in how far the U.S. can go in the fight, but there are differences on how much authority the president should have and for how long. That last provision is an attempt to move away from a reliance on a sweeping 2001 AUMF currently being used to justify military action against the group. While the revised AUMF states that “ISIL has threatened genocide and committed vicious acts of violence against religious and ethnic minority groups, including Iraqi Christian, Yezidi, and Turkmen populations,” it does not mention actions targeting Iraq’s Kurdish population. Corker has been reluctant to take up the war debate unless there’s a clear path for success, contending that a successful vote has little practical application on the battlefield but a failed vote would send the wrong message to U.S. allies.

The Constitution requires Congress to declare wars, but in this case, Obama said he doesn’t need lawmakers’ signoff because of the broad authorities provided under the 2001 AUMF. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) pledged to try to convene a meeting dedicated specifically to the AUMF issue to see if there’s a way forward that won’t end in a divisive stalemate. Lawmakers disputed that point for months, so the president sent them a new, Islamic State-specific AUMF proposal in February, saying he welcomed a vote on it, even if he doesn’t think he needs it. The U.S. has already spent more than $2.1 billion, participated in more than 4,000 airstrikes and sent 3,000 military personnel to Iraq in the effort.

—The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces as defined in section _6. (1) Specific statutory authorization.

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