Dems seek curb on Obama

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Congressional Democrats want to limit President Obama’s war-making authority.

A growing number of Democrats say it is time to scrap a law passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that two administrations have used to justify military actions around the world.

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They say a new resolution more narrowly tailored to Obama’s vision for fighting terrorists that would limit the administration’s powers needs to be adopted.

But there is opposition from Republicans, who want to expand the president’s authority to wage military actions against terrorists, and Democrats who are leery about revoking war authority before a new resolution is drafted.

The effort comes as Obama looks to end combat operations in Afghanistan and “turn the page” in the war on terror.

Obama invited Congress in a speech at the National Defense University last year to engage with him in efforts to “refine and ultimately repeal AUMF’s mandate.” The AUMF is the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which passed shortly after attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Democratic lawmakers say the resolution, which was passed under former President George W. Bush and gave the commander-in-chief broad authority to launch military strikes around the world, is out of date and could mire the United States in low-intensity warfare for another 20 to 30 years.

“We’re still operating in a war declared on 9/14/01 and both the Bush and Obama administrations have determined that that war can be carried out against members of al Qaeda, against anyone who associates with affiliates or associates of al Qaeda, no matter when those associates pop up,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is leading a Senate push to review the use-of-force resolution, in remarks delivered this month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Kaine said the resolution allows the U.S. to wage military action against any al Qaeda affiliate that has an “evil design” against any member of an international coalition that could number as many as 58 countries.

He noted the U.S. would technically be at war with somebody who joins an al Qaeda affiliate in 2020 and has an evil design against Montenegro.

“I don’t think Congress passing that AUMF [on] 9/14/01 believed 13 years later we would still be engaging in war,” he said.

Kaine and other lawmakers say now is the time to act because the war in Afghanistan is winding to a close. Obama announced Tuesday that the last U.S. troops would withdraw by the end of 2016.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, also support reviewing the use-of-force mandate.

In the House, 164 Democrats and 27 Republicans voted last week for an amendment sponsored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that would sunset the authorization of military force after one year.

“I’m concerned about the degree to which we are relying on an authorization to use force that’s targeted against those who are responsible for 9/11 and applying it to organizations that weren’t even in existence on 9/11,” he said.

Mieke Eoyang, director of the national security program at Third Way, a Democratic think tank, said the language of the 2001 resolution is very broad.

“Because of its breadth, a lot of the questions of how broad the authorities are are left to the discretion of the president,” she said.

The push dovetails with Obama’s desire to transform Bush’s war on terror into a wide-ranging law enforcement and training operation that stresses non-military options.

In a commencement speech Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Obama asked Congress to support a $5 billion “Counterterrorism Partnership Fund.”

He said the fund will allow the U.S. to train security forces in Yemen, Somalia and other countries where terrorist groups operate.

A major issue of concern among Democrats and libertarian Republicans on Capitol Hill has been the administration’s liberal use of drones to kill enemies, including American citizens suspected of terrorist ties.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he felt reassured enough to vote for the nomination of David Barron, an architect of the administration’s legal rationale for drone strikes, to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals because the Senate would be reviewing the 9-11 use-of-force resolution.

When asked earlier this month about voting for Barron, who authored a memo justifying a lethal strike against an American citizen, Murphy said, “For a lot of us, our concerns about the opinion can be taken care of if we make a commitment to debate and reauthorize AUMF."

Obama has quietly backed off relying on drones amid criticism from foreign governments and Republicans and Democrats in Congress. His administration has instead increased its budget for counterterrorism programs designed to train and equip foreign militaries.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) held a hearing on the 9/11 use-of-force resolution last week but the meeting did not reveal a clear direction for legislative action.

Instead, Menendez, Kaine and Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced legislation to repeal the authorization for use of military force against Iraq that passed in 2002.

That move was seen as a modest gesture since American combat troops left Iraq more than two years ago and the 9/11 resolution is being used to justify military actions around the world. 

“The Iraq AUMF should be repealed, it’s no longer being utilized,” said Schiff. “But the more pressing issue is the increasingly outdated and legally precarious nature of the AUMF we’re relying on in Afghanistan and elsewhere.”