Debating Authorization for Use of Military Force: Congress Needs To Provide Real Oversight of the Military and Executive Branch
The US military is both the strongest war power in the world and one of the more influential economic players in the global economy. It, along with the US national security apparatus, fall under the command of the US President while the actions of the US military are supposed to be constrained by the US Congress. Since the Cold War and the rise of the United State as the world’s only superpower, however, Congressional oversight has waned. While the US military’s budget has steadily grown and the US has become increasingly involved in a rising number of conflicts, Congress has ceded more and more of its oversight authority to the President. Politicians do, however, periodically raise concerns over whether or not Congress should afford the President such broad powers, which is happening now with the potential passage of a new bill.
Following a series of US airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria , which represents the US response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons attacks, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and ranking member Senator Tim Kaine have introduced legislation to explicitly authorize the Trump Administration to use military force. The US military has engaged in, at least, 37 distinct military operations throughout the Middle East under the authority of a 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which paved the way for the US military to respond to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Today, the US military is currently operating in fourteen countries, sixteen years later, under that same 60-page piece of legislation. Since 2001, scores of new terrorist organizations have emerged, alongside so-called “insurgencies,” inside multi-layered proxy wars and a geopolitical landscape reshaped by the 2011 Arab Spring Revolutions. On the surface alone, reliance on the 2001 AUMF is executive overreach.
Members of Congress do not typically like to openly debate whether or not the military should be engaged in particular operations. Not only do they fear massive backlash from pro-military constituents, they do not want to undermine the ability of the military to fight wars. Although this approach to military oversight is understandable, it is far from reasonable or acceptable. The US military and the US President are far too powerful to be left to their own devices. It is a recipe for corruption and the abuse of power. The US military is so massive in terms of infrastructure and might that a run-away military could never be stopped. The President and Congress need to ensure the military is firmly under the civilian control of the democratically elected US government at all times. A lack of ongoing Congressional oversight shows that it is not.
Recognizing Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to withdraw US forces from both Afghanistan and Iraq, which were the target conflicts of the 2001 AUMF, coupled with Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to focus on ISIS and recent preparations to withdraw US forces from Syria, it would seem obvious that the 2001 AUMF is no longer valid. Given efforts by the Trump Administration to assemble a coalition of regional forces to replace US forces involved in the Syria Civil War, which will likely perpetuate some form of indirect US involvement in regional conflicts, and the CIA’s secret meetings with the leadership of North Korea, which should raise serious concerns about the oversight of the Intelligence Community and the Executive Branch in general, it is time for a new AUMF. It is time for Congress to revisit how much authority it actually needs to give the President to mobilize US forces. It also needs to revisit how much oversight the US military and the Executive Branch actually have.
Unfortunately, the current AUMF from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may well simply replace the outdated 2001 version. Most strikingly, the current AUMF apparently broadens the President’s authority to authorize military action, thus eliminating Congressional oversight in practice by essentially authorizing an ill-defined, perpetual war. The United States as a country and the US military need Congress to actually do their job and discuss what limits should be imposed on military action in conflicts involving terrorist operations. Congress should, in fact, enact a stipulation requiring the full Congress to debate what authority it is actually giving the President. AUMF should have a legally binding expiration date. At the very least, Congress should have to author and enact a new AUMF in the second year of every Presidential term. In other words, Congress needs to be compelled to automatically debate what it is authorizing the US President and military to do.
Read old posts