Obama seeks to repeal AUMF, cautions against “perpetual” war
Citing the administration’s progress in dismantling core Al Qaeda and the wind-down of the war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to begin phasing out the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), warning lawmakers against “keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.”
The AUMF, which was overwhelmingly approved by Congress shortly after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, grants the President extensive powers to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against nations, organizations, or persons he determines were involved in the 9/11 attacks and to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
The AUMF has been used to justify controversial measures such as targeted killing, wiretapping and electronic surveillance, and Section 1021 in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act which enables the President to order the indefinite military detention – without charge or trial – of U.S. citizens suspected of being “part of or substantially supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”
“The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states,” said Obama. “The choices we make about war can impact — in sometimes unintended ways — the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.”
Obama indicated that he will veto any law that’s designed to expand the AUMF’s mandate.
He pointed out that while the U.S. must continue its “systematic effort” to decimate terrorist organizations, the use of force alone is not going to be enough.
“We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root,” said Obama. “And in the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments — will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.”
The President said U.S. counter-terrorism strategy must begin to shift towards addressing the “underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism”, including “deep-rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred”, as well as supporting nascent democracies in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.
All of these efforts, he acknowledged, would require “sustained” foreign aid, which accounts for less than 1% of the entire federal budget but has become a popular fiscal punching bag for Democrats and Republicans.
“Foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism,” said Obama. “Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists. That has to be part of our strategy.”
Republican Sen. John McCain said he is against the President’s call to repeal the AUMF, arguing that the U.S. is still in a “long, drawn-out conflict” with Al Qaeda, particularly given the organization’s expansion in North Africa and the Middle East.
“To somehow argue that Al Qaeda is ‘on the run’ comes from a degree of unreality that to me is really incredible. Al Qaeda is on the run – is on expanding all over the Middle East from Mali to Yemen and all places in between,” said McCain. “To somehow think that we can bring the authorization for the use of military force to a complete closure contradicts reality and the facts on the ground. Al Qaeda will be with us for a long time.”
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