Time limit necessary on Mideast war


We recently marked six months since President Obama unilaterally launched our latest war in the Middle East.

We’ve since hit Islamic State group targets with more than 2,000 airstrikes, and we have 3,000 troops — or, as the administration prefers to call them, “military advisers” — on the ground.

Last week, three months after he pledged to “begin engaging Congress over a new authorization for military force against ISIL,” the president finally filed the paperwork, sending Congress a draft Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) designed to provide legal cover for what he’s been doing for more than half-a-year.

If we’ve learned anything from the history of past Authorization for Use of Military Force (an open question), it’s that presidents will push the authority they’re given as far as language will allow — and possibly further. Last week’s draft resolution is no exception. The president’s draft AUMF does not limit military operations to Iraq and Syria, and it contains a broad “associated forces” provision that could open the door to the sort of endless target-list proliferation we’ve seen under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Moreover, what “limits” the Obama Authorization for Use of Military Force contains fully deserve the scare quotes. The resolution specifies that it “does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations,” but what “enduring” might mean (shorter than “Operation Enduring Freedom”) is hardly clear enough to bind.

It’s not at all clear what the president’s strategy is in the fight against ISIS, or what victory is supposed to look like. But if Congress is going to retroactively authorize the president’s latest war, it ought to get something in the bargain.

In December, Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned Congress against “micromanaging” the president’s military options. The far greater danger, as the president’s draft Authorization for Use of Military Force makes clear, is further codifying our drift toward perpetual presidential war.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute. Send comments to [email protected].

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