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Twenty-two percent said the law should be repealed altogether.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:
- 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."
"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."
"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.
This article appears in the February 20, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.