Marine’s death signals need for new AUMF
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The death of a US Marine at the hands of ISIS earlier this month represents a tragic loss to his family, to the Marine Corps, and to our nation. But it also signals something else: Congress needs to vote on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) as soon as possible.

Congress has not passed an AUMF since the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. The language in that AUMF pertained specifically and exclusively to operations in Iraq, and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a direct product of this document. However, President Obama declared the war in Iraq to be over in 2011. Despite that fact, there are currently around 5,000 US troops in Iraq pursuing an entirely different mission than in the past. White House lawyers make the argument that the 2001 AUMF passed in the wake of 9/11 gives the President unlimited authority to go after terrorists worldwide.

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But this argument falls flat on its face when one inspects the actual language of the 2001 AUMF. The operative text is as follows:

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled that the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Clearly this AUMF does not apply to all terrorists. It applies specifically to those parties involved in 9/11, and it seeks to keep those specific parties from doing the same again.

Perhaps the argument could be made that our current troop presence in Iraq was legal if they were fighting al-Qaida. But that simply is not the case. They are fighting ISIS, a group committed to the destruction of al-Qaida as well as all other groups that stand in their way. Is ISIS a bad group? Yes. Might they be worth fighting? Very possibly, yes.

But the argument I am making is not that we should not be in Iraq, or that we should not be fighting ISIS. The argument I am making specifically is that if we are going to maintain 5,000 troops in Iraq as well as 10,000 in Afghanistan, and others in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, the Philippines, and elsewhere in the “Global War on Terror,” then it needs to be done legally, with proper authority derived from Congress.

But the problem of Congressional lack of accountability and responsibility in these conflicts goes beyond legality. It underlines one of the greatest problems we have had in war for the last 70 years: A lack of commitment to winning. At the beginning of US involvement in World War II, Congress declared war with pointed, direct, committed language. Since then, the language that has existed in our Resolutions and AUMFs has been less direct, and far less committal. The fact that Congress has chosen to pass Resolutions and AUMFs rather than declaring war is itself a signal of less commitment.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how great our military is, if we are not committed to win in major conflicts we will at best tie and at worst lose. The results are evident from Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Consider that if Congress does pass an AUMF against ISIS, it will be the third time in 25 years that the US has invaded Iraq. Certainly there are other complexities as to why, but largely it is due to the fact that we never did the job right in the first place, and this is because we did not commit to winning at all costs.

In war you cannot afford to be middling, or irresolute. You must commit to winning, all the way, or stay out of it. If Congress is unwilling to vote on and pass a new AUMF, they must enforce the War Powers Resolution of 1973, and pass a resolution to bring our troops home.

If Congress is unwilling to commit officially by casting a vote, I’m not sure why any of our troops should have to commit with their lives.


Paul Brown is a Marine Corps veteran and the Executive Director of Veterans Action Network. From 2015 to 2016 he ran for US Congress in Texas, and he is the author of Total War. He lives in Dallas with his wife Chérie and son Joshua.