I posted recently on the debate over whether a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) would be necessary for President Obama’s commitment of special forces to Syria, in the fight against the Islamic State. This piece in Politico yesterday explains the difficulties of getting to a vote on any new AUMF, much less the one that President Obama proposed in February. The piece states that Brett McGurk, President Obama’s special envoy on ISIL, told Senators during a closed-door hearing that President Obama did not need additional authority from Congress to fight ISIL.
That may very well be correct, but: why not? Is it because the existing statutory authorization is adequate to cover the fight against ISIL in Syria? Or is it because the President can rely on his Article II executive powers and does not need any congressional authorization? If it is the former, then the Obama Administration must explain how that is consistent with its previously stated views about the existing AUMF. If it is the latter, the Obama Administration must explain why this is the correct view of executive power under the Constitution – a view more consistent with that of the last Bush Administration than with the views of then-Senator Obama. Perhaps McGurk has answered that question; but it is not clear from the Politico article or from Administration statements.
Some members of Congress will not be satisfied with this, as is evident by the letter that a bipartisan group of House members sent to Speaker Ryan, demanding a public debate on a new AUMF. That, I think, is what should happen, as I stated previously; even if the President’s Article II powers are sufficient, a congressional debate on the battle against ISIL has independent constitutional value. But I also sense that such a group will probably not persuade enough of their colleagues to do so. The politics of authorizing military force have now become inextricably entangled with caution induced by the war in Iraq. One wonders whether that kind of skittishness in Congress will doom any debates on authorizing any force in the foreseeable future, absent an attack on the United States.