On Monday, Senators Bob Corker and Tim Kaine led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation which would replace the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force (AUMF) with a new authorization which critics fear would allow the U.S. President to launch wars around the world with little oversight. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Jeff Flake, Chris Coons, Todd Young, and Bill Nelson. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to debate, amend, and vote on the legislation beginning next week.
“There have been a number of efforts over the years to update these authorities, and while there is still work ahead, I am pleased that we have reached an agreement on a product for the committee to consider,” Corker stated.
The introduction of a new AUMF comes on the heels of strikes against Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government. Corker applauded Trump for his choice to launch strikes against Syria, but cautioned, “Going forward, it is imperative that the administration engage directly with Congress and clearly communicate its plan to the American people.”
According to the Unites States Constitution, the only way the Congress can declare war is through an AUMF or a declaration of war. Politicians are wary of directly voting to support sending more troops into danger or being on record supporting potentially disastrous military conflicts. Rather than voting on a new AUMF every time the U.S. decides to launch or join a conflict abroad (such as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Syria), the last three administrations have used the AUMF from 2001 and 2002 to justify their interventions. The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs were passed to authorize the use of military force in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks and to target Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
“If we’re going to ask our troops to risk their lives in support of a mission, then we need to at least have the courage to show we are behind them,” Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, stated.
Corker and Kaine’s resolution is attempting to force a vote on a new AUMF which will explicitly outline the war powers delegated to the president. According to the legislation, the new AUMF would authorize the executive to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and designated “associated forces.” The “associated forces” include the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the East African terrorist group al-Shabab, the Syria-based Nusra Front, the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, and al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb. In addition, the legislation would require Congress to review the AUMF every four years, and “does not provide authority for military action against any nation state.”
The legislation would grant the president the freedom to “immediately use force against a new associated force or in a new country” so long as the Congress is notified within 48 hours. Despite requiring the president to report to Congress within 48 hours of an attack (or if the president wants to designate a new organization as “associated forces” with known terror groups) it does not include any mechanism for enforcing the requirement.
The American Civil Liberties Union is among the critics of the legislation who fear that President Trump and future administrations are being granted authorization to launch wars wherever they choose, whenever they choose. The ACLU recently sent a letter to all senators strongly opposing this new AUMF, warning that the president “would get a blank check from Congress to go to war virtually anywhere on the planet.”
The ACLU wrote:
The Corker AUMF would cause colossal harm to the Constitution’s checks and balances, would jeopardize civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad, would lead to a breathtakingly broad expansion of war without meaningful oversight, and would represent a sharp break from adherence to international law, including the United Nations Charter.If enacted, a Corker AUMF could cause fundamental damage to the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights for a generation or longer.
While we share the frustration of many senators with expansive presidential claims of war authority based on the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 AUMF, the proposed Corker AUMF would cause far greater problems, and unless the courts would invalidate it as unconstitutional, it would be exceedingly difficult to curtail its damage.The ACLU, along with other human rights, civil liberties, and religious organizations will make stopping a Corker AUMF from becoming law an exceedingly high priority, given the likelihood of long-term global damage if enacted.