11 February 2015   Leave a comment

US President Obama has submitted a draft Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) to the Congress.  The AUMF is a strange legislative creature that acts as a substitute for the Declaration of War required by the US Constitution.   It was developed because of the War Powers Act that Congress passed in 1973 in an attempt to reassert Congressional authority in matters of war that had been blurred by the way the Vietnam War had been conducted.  The Act requires that:

…the President, upon sending troops into military action, must notify Congress within 48 hours that he has done so. The Resolution also forbids military personnel from remaining in a state of conflict for more than 60 days (including an additional 30 days for withdrawal). After that, the President must seek an additional authorization from Congress or a formal declaration of war.

The most recent AUMF was passed in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to use military force against al Qaida which had attacked the US on 11 September 2001.  That AUMF is actually still in force, and will not be repealed by the mere passage of a new AUMF for President Obama in the actions against the Islamic State.  The lack of a repeal is important because the AUMF of 2002 contains none of the restraints outlined in Obama’s AUMF.  The US will therefore have two AUMFs–one open-ended and one restrictive–and it is not clear which one is fully operative.

The restraints in Obama’s AUMF are two.  First, is does not authorize “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”  The President indicated that this restraint means that there will not be extensive use of troops actively engaged in combat.  Unfortunately, I suspect that no one can really define what the phrase means.  So it may not be an effective check against a deep commitment of combat troops.

Second, the AUMF has a limit of three years.  That limit is certainly better than Bush’s AUMF (which has no time limit), but three years is a very long time to be involved in military action.  And military operations have a tendency to generate their own momentum.  Note also that Obama’s term is up in two years, which means that he has also committed the next President (whoever that may be) to operations against the Islamic State.

Finally, the AUMF does not really address the central issue of the use of force against the Islamic State: whether the US intends to ally itself with Iran in supporting both the governments of Iraq and Syria.  The latter issue is critical because that alliance means that the US will be supporting Syrian President Assad (and, indirectly, Russia, which supports Assad).  In other words, the US still has to figure out who are its friends and who are its enemies.  A strange position for a great power.


The situation in Greece remains unsettled.  After five hours of talks, the Greeks and the troika decided to hold additional talks on Monday.  There are massively conflicting reports concerning today’s talks.   Some reports indicate that progress was made; others suggest that positions have simply hardened.


Posted February 12, 2015 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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