Security Insiders: Narrow the Use-of-Force Act

As the U.S. emerges from an era of war, experts say Congress must change the law that authorized it.

Army soldiers carry an injured soldier who was shot in the leg, through a poppy field on April 24, 2011 in the Arghandab River Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
Feb. 19, 2014, 9:24 a.m.

As the U.S. emerges from an era of war, Con­gress must change the law that au­thor­ized it, a plur­al­ity of Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders said.

Pres­id­ent Obama has said he wants to work with Con­gress to modi­fy, and even­tu­ally re­peal, the Au­thor­iz­a­tion for Use of Mil­it­ary Force, which Con­gress passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks and which gave the pres­id­ent broad au­thor­ity to tar­get the coun­tries, groups, or in­di­vidu­als re­spons­ible.

Forty-nine per­cent of NJ‘s pool of na­tion­al se­cur­ity ex­perts say the man­date, which was used to jus­ti­fy the war in Afgh­anistan — and to tar­get ter­ror­ists in places far from tra­di­tion­al bat­tle­fields, such as Somalia and Ye­men — should be nar­rowed in scope as the war comes to a close.

“Con­gress should de­bate a clear­er long-term leg­al basis for U.S. mil­it­ary ac­tion to de­fend against ter­ror­ist threats,” one In­sider said. “The 2001 AUMF was nev­er in­ten­ded as a semi­per­man­ent au­thor­iz­a­tion.”

Even after the form­al end of com­bat op­er­a­tions this year, U.S. forces may still be op­er­at­ing in Afgh­anistan — and they will “cer­tainly” be en­gaged in coun­terter­ror­ism activ­it­ies in oth­er coun­tries, an­oth­er In­sider noted. “It would be best if Con­gress de­bates and ap­proves the scope of these activ­it­ies rather than hav­ing them oc­cur by pres­id­en­tial fi­at.”

One In­sider said the sweep­ing AUMF was “ne­ces­sary” in the early days after the 9/11 at­tacks — and has “served the U.S. well in deal­ing with an ex­ist­en­tial threat.” The law, however, gave the ex­ec­ut­ive branch a sig­ni­fic­ant amount of power, which this In­sider said lim­ited Con­gress’s over­sight re­spons­ib­il­it­ies un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“It is time to get that back in bal­ance,” the In­sider said. “A healthy de­bate on the way ahead is in or­der.”

That de­bate is sure to be heated — and some In­siders said it will not, ul­ti­mately, res­ult in any changes. “It should be nar­rowed, but it won’t be,” one In­sider said. “This is one of those things, like U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil re­form, that every­one knows needs to be fixed, but there’s wild dis­agree­ment about how it should be fixed; so, in the end, no agree­ment will be pos­sible, and the status quo will pre­vail.”

The pool of In­siders was also di­vided. Twenty-nine per­cent said the AUMF should be left un­touched. “The war with al-Qaida is morph­ing, but, make no mis­take, it con­tin­ues,” one said. “The U.S. needs the au­thor­it­ies to con­duct that war.”

Twenty-two per­cent said the law should be re­pealed al­to­geth­er. “Only last year, Obama was de­noun­cing the idea of a ‘bound­less glob­al war on ter­ror,’ ” one In­sider said. “Re­peal it.”

Sev­er­al In­siders, though, said Con­gress should re­peal the AUMF, then pass a totally new au­thor­iz­a­tion to re­place it. A new AUMF would need to be “par­tially de-linked from a re­l­at­ively form­al­ist­ic (and un­real­ist­ic) ana­lys­is of how the threat to the United States is linked to al-Qaida,” one In­sider said. “Both Benghazi and re­cent de­vel­op­ments in Syr­ia high­light this need.”

1. As the war in Afgh­anistan ends, the Au­thor­iz­a­tion for Use of Mil­it­ary Force that Con­gress passed in 2001 should be:

(59 votes)

  • Nar­rowed 49%
  • Left un­touched 29%
  • Re­pealed 22%


“I would say that the le­gis­la­tion should be fun­da­ment­ally re­con­sidered — nar­rowed in some areas, but ex­pan­ded in oth­ers.”

“If the AUMF is re­pealed, then we will re­turn to a situ­ation in which the CIA alone will have the sole leg­al abil­ity to em­ploy force in our de­fense. This is be­cause of the cov­ert-ac­tion pro­vi­sions of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Acts.”

“[Con­gress] should en­act a nar­rowed, more sus­tain­able AUMF that aligns with U.S. coun­terter­ror­ism strategy and goals bet­ter than the 2001 AUMF.”

“While the cur­rent pro­cliv­ity for en­ga­ging our mil­it­ary in new con­flicts is min­im­al, al­most ex­cess­ively so, the Con­gress should still have an on­go­ing say in wheth­er we are to en­gage our mil­it­ary in con­flicts that in­vari­ably last longer than pre­dicted.”

“Un­for­tu­nately, our poli­cy­makers don’t un­der­stand that the en­emy gets a vote on when a war ac­tu­ally ends. Ideally, such a meas­ure would be re­pealed, but we have enough ‘un­fin­ished busi­ness’ in Afgh­anistan that we should al­low for the use of force in that coun­try, but only un­der the nar­row­est of cir­cum­stances.”

“Con­gress should de­bate a clear­er long-term leg­al basis for U.S. mil­it­ary ac­tion to de­fend against ter­ror­ist threats. The 2001 AUMF was nev­er in­ten­ded as a semi­per­man­ent au­thor­iz­a­tion.”

“U.S. forces may still be op­er­at­ing in Afgh­anistan after 2014 and will cer­tainly be en­gaged in coun­terter­ror activ­it­ies in oth­er coun­tries. It would be best if Con­gress de­bates and ap­proves the scope of these activ­it­ies rather than hav­ing them oc­cur by pres­id­en­tial fi­at.”

“Nar­row­ing the AUMF will help re­store some nor­malcy to U.S. for­eign policy while pre­serving our abil­ity to re­spond to ter­ror­ists around the world who threaten Amer­ic­an in­terests.”

Left un­touched

“I do not think we can let the Taliban re­take Afgh­anistan. It would be a huge Amer­ic­an em­bar­rass­ment and in­sult to those who died and their fam­il­ies. There­fore, we need max flex­ib­il­ity, and the cur­rent agree­ment should stand.”

“Some re­vi­sions should be stud­ied, but not sure that nar­rowed or re­pealed ne­ces­sar­ily is cor­rect.”

“It doesn’t mat­ter what should be done with the AUMF. The fact is, there is no pos­sible change that could at­tract enough votes to pass. We are bound by this au­thor­iz­a­tion un­til more time as passed.”

“Ac­tu­ally, it should be re­defined to meet cur­rent cir­cum­stances — so nar­rowed, re­pealed, and left alone all have short­com­ings.”

“Or ex­pan­ded.”

“Ac­tu­ally, the an­swer is D: Thor­oughly re­viewed. It needs to be de­bated and up­dated — and maybe ex­pan­ded — giv­en the chan­ging nature of the threat since 9/11. We are en­ter­ing a new era, and a relook may help us think about what ought to change in our ap­proach.”


“We are go­ing to have to re­think all the cir­cum­stances in which we in­tend to use force. This is way too open a charter.”

“Like the Gulf of Tonkin res­ol­u­tion, it should nev­er have been passed in the first place, and it should be re­pealed as soon as pos­sible.”

“A new au­thor­iz­a­tion should be passed by Con­gress that re­cog­nizes the sig­ni­fic­ant changes that have taken place. The threat today is dif­fer­ent than in 2001. Provide the pres­id­ent with ex­pli­cit guid­ance and au­thor­ity to act con­sist­ent with con­gres­sion­al in­tent for today’s threat en­vir­on­ment.”

“Only last year, Obama was de­noun­cing the idea of a ‘bound­less glob­al war on ter­ror.’ Re­peal it.”

“The land war is over; dip­lomacy and a mil­it­ary train­ing mis­sion as­cend; and the pres­id­ent will still ex­er­cise cov­ert ac­tion for the coun­terter­ror­ism long war, as DOD fun­da­ment­ally re­tools for anti-ac­cess area deni­al.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders Poll is a peri­od­ic sur­vey of more than 100 de­fense and for­eign policy ex­perts. They in­clude: Gor­don Adams, Charles Al­len, Mi­chael Al­len, Thad Al­len, Gra­ham Al­lis­on, James Bam­ford, Dav­id Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Ber­gen, Samuel “Sandy” Ber­ger, Dav­id Ber­teau, Steph­en Biddle, Nancy Bird­sall, Mari­on Blakey, Kit Bond, Stu­art Bowen, Paula Broad­well, Mike Breen, Mark Brun­ner, Steven Bucci, Nich­olas Burns, Dan By­man, James Jay Cara­fano, Phil­lip Carter, Wendy Cham­ber­lin, Mi­chael Cher­toff, Frank Cil­luffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clem­ons, Joseph Collins, Wil­li­am Court­ney, Lorne Cran­er, Ro­ger Cres­sey, Gregory Dahl­berg, Robert Dan­in, Richard Dan­zig, Daniel Drezn­er, Mack­en­zie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, An­drew Ex­um, Wil­li­am Fal­lon, Eric Farns­worth, Jacques Gansler, Steph­en Gan­yard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gun­zinger, Todd Har­ris­on, John Hamre, Jim Harp­er, Marty Haus­er, Mi­chael Hay­den, Mi­chael Her­son, Pete Hoek­stra, Bruce Hoff­man, Linda Hud­son, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Don­ald Ker­rick, Rachel Klein­feld, Lawrence Korb, Dav­id Kramer, An­drew Kre­pinev­ich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Mi­chael Leit­er, James Lind­say, Justin Lo­gan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ron­ald Marks, Bri­an Mc­Caf­frey, Steven Metz, Frank­lin Miller, Mi­chael Mo­rell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kev­in Neal­er, Mi­chael Oates, Thomas Pick­er­ing, Paul Pil­lar, Larry Pri­or, Steph­en Rade­maker, Marc Rai­mondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Ro­ten­berg, Frank Rug­giero, Gary Sam­ore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Steph­en Ses­t­an­ovich, Sarah Se­wall, Mat­thew Sher­man, Jen­nifer Sims, Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, Con­stan­ze Stelzen­müller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Town­send, Mick Train­or, Richard Wil­helm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Za­kheim, and Juan Za­r­ate.

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