This past Wednesday, President Obama sent a draft joint resolution to Congress. For the first time in almost 13 years, Congress will have the ability to approve an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). This AUMF will allow President Obama to continue his campaign against the Islamic State (IS), also known as ISIL and ISIS, in Iraq, Syria and other countries in the region.
American forces have been engaging IS targets in Iraq using airstrikes since August. In September, the deployment of airstrikes broadened into Syria. President Obama has been relying on the AUMF resolutions that Former President Bush passed in 2001 and 2002.
There has been some concern about President Obama overstepping his constitutional boundaries with his actions against IS. President Obama maintains that he has done nothing illegal, and that this new resolution is to show “the world that we are united in our resolve to counter” the IS threat.
The new AUMF is much more limited in scope than the ones from 2001 and 2002. It sets a three-year time limit for military operations against IS before the president would need a congressionally approved extension. In contrast, the 2002 resolution had no time restriction, and it also authorized the president 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.” The resolution also promises that the United States will not be dragged into another ground war in the Middle East. US troops will be limited to rescue operations, special ops missions to take out IS leaders and the training of allied troops.
Certainly, this AUMF does seem to do a better job of limiting the carte blanche antics that plagued Bush’s war on terrorism. While America is wary of sending more soldiers to die in the Middle East, it is widely accepted that something needs to be done to combat IS and help those under its reign of terror. The Iraqi death toll from war related violence in 2014 is estimated between 21,000 and 47,000 persons. IS is guilty of carrying out the systematic murder of civilians from nearly every religion and background. Many fear that with Western citizens joining IS forces, its campaign can spread out of the Middle East and into Europe and America. But, while there needs to be a sense of urgency in moving forward, it is important to not let our emotions get the best of us. It is easy to forget some of the actions of the United States that were committed in the name of “freedom.”
Part of President Obama’s plan includes the further equipping of “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight IS. Though it seems like the best alternative to having American boots on the ground, let us not forget how we provided arms to Mujahideen freedom fighters in their fight against the Soviets, and how we directly aided Osama bin Laden. By providing arms to these Syrian rebels, we are only making it less costly for continued aggression in the region, possibly keeping it as unstable as it already is. There is also the issue of continuing the training of Iraqi troops to help combat IS.
The reliance on local troops has been one of the key factors in the lengthening of the War on Terror. Iraqi troops do not have the skill, discipline or resources to match the strength of American armed forces. The fight against IS could begin to have striking similarities with the Vietnam War. All it would take would be a future president to request further ground support to “hasten” the defeat of the enemy.
Sadly, this is a narrative that America has heard many times since the end of World War II. However, President Obama’s plan still needs to get approval from Congress. Democrats are worried about the vagueness of the AUMF, fearing another post-9/11 Patriot Act nightmare. Surprisingly, in a twisted act of irony, many Republicans do not think that President Obama is giving himself enough power: the restrictions that President Obama is trying to place on himself to prevent the mistakes of his predecessor may lead to a less desired outcome than if he were to let loose America’s military might.
America has its hands tied, facing a barbaric group whose total destruction is necessary and needs to come quickly. Yet after a decade-long military campaign, which has allowed for the dismantling of many of the personal freedoms that we used to take for granted, another war in the Middle East just does not sound appealing regardless of the consequences of inaction.
Van Huben is a member of the class of 2018.