The U.S.’ small-scale face-off with Islamic State in northern Iraq seems pretty sure to escalate in coming months, and President Obama’s hawkish critics in Congress are already rushing to secure agreements to again authorize U.S. military action in Iraq. Two congressional Authorizations for Use of Military Force are now on the table, but one in particular is alarming.
The more moderate faction, which includes Democrats like Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), wants to authorize the president to launch air strikes throughout Iraq to curb the IS threat. Then you have the hardcore true believers like Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who thinks the current AUMF no longer applies. So he introduced a measure that would – as Salon’s Jim Newell pointed out – pretty much authorize the president to use the U.S. military against anyone, anywhere in the world he or she pleases.
That’s not really an exaggeration.
Here’s the text of the relevant section, with the terrifying parts bolded:
IN GENERAL.—The President is authorized, with the close consultation, coordination, and cooperation with NATO and regional allies, to use all necessary and appropriate force against those countries, organizations, or persons associated with or supporting terrorist groups, including al Qaeda and its regional affiliates, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and any other emerging regional terrorist groups that share a common violent extremist ideologywith such terrorist groups, regional affiliates, or emerging terrorist groups, in order to eliminate all such terrorist groupsand prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States or its allies by such terrorist groups, countries, organizations, or persons.
For a dude who distrusts President Obama on issues ranging from health care to Benghazi, Wolf sure seems eager to toss the president an AUMF that would literally give him the power to use the U.S. military to target any “countries, organizations, or persons” linked in any form to terrorism. It also gives him the power to pursue such groups until their extermination and the authority to act on the hint of a threat to the U.S.
Bonus point: Wolf’s AUMF also doesn’t actually define what terrorism is or who has the authority to define that designation, but it’s broad enough to assume those powers would lay with the Oval Office.
The implications of an AUMF like this are beyond mind-boggling. Presidents would be more or less scot-free to call anyone a terrorist and bomb them — while al-Qaeda, Islamic State, al Shabaab and Boko Haram are on the list, there’s pretty much nothing in the resolution preventing the commander in chief from simply branding anything a terrorist organization to justify bombing it.
For example, what happens if a future President Rick Perry decides that Mexican drug cartels are terrorist organizations? (Think Clear and Present Danger, except with more shit-eating grins.) Based on Wolf’s legislation, sending a few drones to teach uppity drug lords a lesson would be a totally acceptable response. Alternately, a President John McCain could have called the masked men who seized airports and transit hubs in Crimea before its Russian annexation terrorists and taken unilateral action against them – hello, Wolverines.
As Newell writes, it’s not really so hard to write a limited AUMF giving the president authorization to carry out one specific campaign instead of a blank check to wage warfare as a function of office. That would, however, require a worldview that didn’t see a 1984-esque eternal war against constantly shifting adversaries as a feature rather than a bug. It’s also grotesquely fascinating seeing neoconservatives rush to give President Obama the power to re-enter Iraq the quickest. If there’s one thing that excites a certain brand of hawk more than slamming the commander-in-chief, it’s the prospect of regaining our supposedly lost national glory through violence.