Trump administration does not want limits
on war authorization
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[October 31, 2017]
By Patricia Zengerle and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald
Trump's top national security aides pushed back on Monday against U.S.
lawmakers calling for a new congressional war authorization, saying it
would be a mistake to impose geographic or time limits on the campaign
against Islamic State and other militant groups.
"War is fundamentally unpredictable," Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis
told a Senate hearing about a potential new authorization for the use of
military force, or AUMF, Congress' most significant step in years toward
taking back control of its constitutional right to authorize war.
Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both told the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee it would put U.S. forces at risk if existing
authorizations were repealed without new ones in place. They said they
do not need a new AUMF to justify ongoing military action.
"The 2001 AUMF provides statutory authority for ongoing U.S. military
operations against al-Qaeda; the Taliban; and associated forces,
including against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS,"
Republican and Democratic members of Congress have argued for years that
Congress ceded too much authority over the military to the White House
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But divisions over how much control
they should exert over the Pentagon have stymied repeated efforts to
pass a new AUMF.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who proposed an authorization with
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, said Congress should "buy in" to military
conflicts by exerting its constitutional authority to declare war.
"Here in the Senate, we aspire to be more than just a cog in a feedback
loop," Flake said. He argued that passing an AUMF would send an
important message that Washington is unified to U.S. troops, allies and
"We have a job to do," Kaine said, questioning whether resistance to a
new AUMF was simply opposition to congressional oversight.
Concerns intensified this month after four U.S. soldiers were killed in
Niger, and previously over Trump's talk about the possibility of an
attack on North Korea and an April attack on an airfield in Syria.
Republican Senator Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, said the ambush
in Niger shows U.S. forces "can find themselves in combat at any
[to top of second column]
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) and Defense
Secretary James Mattis testify about authorizations for the use of
military force before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on
Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan
'GLOBAL, ENDLESS, SHADOW WAR'
Congress has not passed an AUMF since the 2002 measure authorizing
the Iraq War. But the legal justification for most military action
for the past 16 years is the older authorization passed days after
the Sept. 11 attacks, for the campaign against al Qaeda and
Backers of a new AUMF say the 2001 authorization has let presidents
wage war wherever they like, without answering to Congress, or the
public. For example, Islamic State did not exist in 2001.
"I do not think the American people want the United States
conducting a global, endless 'Shadow War,' under-the-radar, covert
and beyond scrutiny," said Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on
the foreign relations panel.
Mattis said he was not averse to a new authorization. But he said
imposing limits would help the non-state actors who are America's
adversaries in a "non-traditional" war spanning much of the globe.
"If the enemy hopes we are going to quit on a certain day, or if
they know we won't deal with them if they step over a certain
border, then the enemy is going to do exactly that," Mattis said.
Trump's fellow Republicans control majorities in both the Senate and
House of Representatives but there are deep divisions over any
possible new authorization within the party, as well as between
Republicans and Democrats.
While some Republicans echo Flake in calling for Congress to weigh
in, more hawkish lawmakers say military commanders should decide how
to fight America's enemies.
Some Democrats say they want an AUMF limiting why, where and for how
long U.S. forces can be sent to fight, but others refuse to go on
the record supporting any conflict.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, Mary
Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)
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