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Reactions to the President's AUMF Draft Don't Augur Well

Benjamin Wittes
Monday, February 16, 2015, 9:23 AM
The New York Times thinks President Obama's draft AUMF is dangerously broad:

The parameters of a proposed war authorization the White House sent to

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The New York Times thinks President Obama's draft AUMF is dangerously broad:

The parameters of a proposed war authorization the White House sent toCongress on Wednesday, however, are alarmingly broad. It does not limit the battlefield to Syria and Iraq, the strongholds of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which is attempting to form a caliphate. It also seeks permission to attack “associated persons or forces” of the brutal group, a term that appears to be excessively expansive and could undermine Mr. Obama’s stated intent to limit the force authorization.

. . .

If the White House prevails, it would get virtually unrestricted power to engage in attacks around the globe as long as it can justify a connection, however tenuous, to the Islamic State.

John Yoo thinks it is alarming narrow:

For the first time in his years in office, Barack Obama yesterday asked Congress to bless a war. But in this one case, the institution of the presidency and the nation as a whole would benefit if, instead, he kept his usual distance from the Capitol. Mr. Obama’s proposal will only make defeating the Islamic State group harder, hamstring his successor in office, and diminish the presidency.

Ruth Marcus thinks both are right:

The ordinary temptation is to figure that the president must be doing something right if both sides complain. Actually, I think critics on the left and right have legitimate points. Liberal Democrats’ concern is that it gives this president, and his successor, too much power over what force to use and against what groups. Their strongest point is the odd fact that the president has chosen to leave in effect the 2001 AUMF, even though Obama himself has said since 2013 that it is time to “refine, and ultimately repeal” its authority. If the administration doesn’t believe Congress is capable of writing one authorization at the same time it rewrites another (okay, hard to argue with that), it must at least make clear that the new Islamic State legislation supplants whatever shreds of authority exist under the 2001 document for that purpose. The Republican criticism is that the president’s proposal would cede too much authority. Yes, that’s right: The president they have assailed as a unilateral executive orderer is not trying to be dictatorial enough. But once you stop chuckling over the inconsistency, you have to consider — there’s a real issue here. Obama’s suggested restraint on his own authority is both substantive and temporal. He would limit presidential power to commit ground troops and set a three-year expiration date. I’m not worried about the first. The point of an authorization is not to serve as a presidential blank check. And the administration’s wording — the military is not to be used in “enduring offensive combat operations” — contains more than enough flexibility. (See Democratic distress, above.) But the expiration date should be removed. What happens when the time expires, hostilities are continuing, and a future Congress is unable to get its act together to reauthorize?
The Washington Post editorial page also thinks both Left and Right have a point:
Unfortunately, the draft legislation that Mr. Obama finally unveiled Wednesday does not provide a quick path to congressional action. It is an unwieldy legal and political amalgam that expands presidential authority in ways that alarm even some hawkish conservatives, while also seeking to limit the options of the next president in combating the Islamic State.
All of which returns me to the draft AUMF Jack, Matt, Bobby and I put forward some time back. It does not address all of the criticisms all sides are making here (on the sunset, in particular), but it answers a lot of them.

Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.

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