February 12, 2015

The Ambivalent Authorization to Avoid Fighting ISIL

It should be called the Authorization to Avoid Using Force at All Costs.

Barack Obama submitted to Congress his request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on Wednesday. It’s so pathetic and restricted, however, it should be called the Authorization to Avoid Using Force at All Costs.

For the last six months, the Nobel Peace Prize winner has unilaterally justified limited airstrikes against ISIL (Jihadistan) as an extension of George W. Bush’s 2001 AUMF against al-Qaida and his 2002 AUMF against Iraq. But Obama’s new AUMF will repeal the 2002 one. His proposal bars any “enduring offensive combat operations” (using the word “enduring” is clearly a slap at Bush) and it expires after three years. We thought he was bad with senseless timetables before – now he’s setting them before he even gets started.

Obama has done nothing but burn bridges with Republicans, so it isn’t surprising to see resistance from the GOP-controlled Congress, especially that Obama’s AUMF doesn’t go nearly far enough. Naturally, it goes too far for Democrats, who aren’t willing to blindly follow their leader after he led them to a virtual bloodbath in the midterm elections. Besides, they’ve spent too much political energy since 2003 opposing “Bush’s wars” to eagerly defend this one.

“I have directed a comprehensive and sustained strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL,” Obama wrote in a letter to Congress, saying his AUMF was needed to “show the world we are united in our resolve to counter the threat posed by ISIL.” His attempts to show “resolve” – going so far as to name the airstrikes “Operation Inherent Resolve” – are classic propaganda. His only resolve is to avoid putting too many boots on the ground (never mind the boots in the air), and to hinder his successor with a three-year time limit.

It’s clear to friend and foe alike that Obama’s National Security Strategy is one of weakness. To illustrate that, consider some of the results of Obama’s resolve:

  • Libya is in a state of total anarchy after Obama helped remove Moammar Gadhafi from power with no succession plan. We need only mention Benghazi to illustrate the consequences of that decision.

  • Egypt succumbed for a time to the Muslim Brotherhood after Obama cast aside our imperfect ally Hosni Mubarak. This week, Egypt made a nuclear reactor deal with Russia, building a cozy relationship that won’t benefit the U.S.

  • Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad remains in power after Obama declined to enforce his brash red line regarding chemical weapons. Obama asked for an AUMF to attack Assad in 2013, but it wasn’t long before he ultimately abandoned the idea. Now, 20,000 jihadis are pouring into Syria to join ISIL and Obama is sharing airstrike intelligence with Assad through third parties.

  • Remember when Obama pointed to Yemen as a success story in his foreign policy? Yeah, about that… Just last week, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels completed their takeover of Yemen’s pro-American government, and the U.S., Britain and France are closing embassies. ISIL has gained a foothold there, as well.

  • Three Americans captured by ISIL – James Foley, Steven Sutloff and Kayla Mueller – were killed despite Obama’s rescue attempt. That’s at least partially because he delayed acting on intelligence regarding their whereabouts for at least a month and maybe as long as four months.

  • U.S. relations with Israel have never been worse. Obama sent campaign henchmen to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu in his upcoming election, and Obama plans to snub the Israeli leader in his upcoming visit to DC.

  • Oh, and there’s the minor detail that Obama’s decision to wash his hands of Iraq and pull all U.S. troops out created the vacuum currently occupied by ISIL. Previously known as the “JV team,” Obama now says ISIL “poses a grave threat to the people and territorial integrity of Iraq and Syria, regional stability, in the national security interests of the United States and its allies and partners.”

So how resolved is Obama this time?

His spokesman, Josh Earnest agreed with CNN’s Jim Acosta, who called the AUMF language “intentionally fuzzy.” But Earnest explained that’s “because we believe it’s important that there aren’t overly burdensome constraints that are placed on the commander in chief, who needs the flexibility to be able to respond to contingencies that emerge in a chaotic military conflict like this.”

Obama himself described it as not too hot and not too cold, but just right. “This resolution strikes the necessary balance by giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances,” he said.

That’s Obama-speak for he wins both ways. If the AUMF is granted, then he’ll use it to justify anything and everything. If not, then he’ll blame Republicans frequently and loudly that his hands are tied.

To obfuscate his weakness, he started talking tough: “Our coalition is on the offensive, ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose. … With our allies and partners we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”

Except he doesn’t have the resolve to do whatever it takes. The U.S. “should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East,” he declared. “The resolution we’ve submitted … does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria. It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq.” As we’ve noted before, Obama’s foreign policy goal is to not be George W. Bush. But for those of us with family members who are active duty military, his ineptitude is a deeply personal offense.

This authorization is nothing but political cover. Obama already has the authority to fight ISIL – a grave and not random threat – but this latest move proves he simply doesn’t want to. If Congress does anything, it should be to pass an unlimited authorization that gives Obama no excuse or cover.

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