In the wake of the deaths of four United States Army Special Forces personnel in the African Republic of Niger several weeks ago, there has begun a level of questioning around our global military involvements. With the advent of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) by the Bush Administration in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks which occurred on September 11, 2001, the military involvements of the United States, both overt and covert, accelerated and expanded exponentially. One critical piece of legislation which was passed on September 14, 2001–mere days after 9\11–was the Authorization for Use of Military Force or AUMF.
The AUMF granted the President of the United States the authority to use, “necessary and appropriate force” against the perpetrators of September 11, 2001 and “associated forces” or any of those who he determined to have “planned, authorized, committed or aided” in the orchestration of said events. In essence, this ceded war-making authority to the Executive in an unprecedented expansion of the authority of the President. President George W. Bush signed the legislation into law on September 11, 2001 in the absence of any semblance of Congressional debate or opposition. The only Representative to vote against the AUMF was Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) who repeatedly criticized the measure as ceding the power to wage war in the absence of congressional debate.
Representative Barbara Lee’s Repeated Efforts to Fight the AUMF
Courageously, Representative Lee has often been a lone voice in her efforts to repeal the AUMF. On June 29, 2017, a group of Democrats and Libertarian-oriented Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee approved Lee’s proposal to end the AUMF within 240 days. Momentum has begun to build and, the formerly sole voice in opposition, is gaining support from both sides of the aisle. Lee noted, “Both Democrats and Republicans really understand the need to repeal this 2001 authorization.” The proposed amendment was later removed from the House agenda by the Rules Committee, but Lee’s efforts continue.
In an article which appeared in The Nation on June 30, 2017, Jon Rainwater, Executive Director of Peace Action, noted, ““The 2001 AUMF is the reason the U.S. has been involved in military campaigns in at least seven countries. It’s the reason we’ve allowed the war in Afghanistan to become America’s longest war. It’s the reason a whole generation has grown up not knowing a time without war,”
The recent events in Niger raise a range of questions regarding the expansive powers which allow the Executive Branch of our government to wage war, anytime and anywhere in the absence of public debate and often beyond not only public review but outside congressional scrutiny.
A Closer Look at the Authorization for Use of Military Force or AUMF
What does it say and what does it allow the President to do? Following passage of the legislation into law, the Bush Administration interpreted it as de facto Congressional authorization for the President to wage war whenever he deemed it warranted by circumstances. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provided a listing and analysis of Presidential references in 2016. The preface to this analysis notes,
“The 2001 AUMF does not include a specified congressional reporting requirement, but states that the authorization is not intended to supersede any requirement of the War Powers Resolution, which does require congressional reporting for initial and continuing deployments of U.S. armed forces into imminent or ongoing hostilities.”
The report goes on to note that the AUMF has been invoked a total of 37 times. It further notes that its utilization spanned both the Bush and Obama Administrations, being used 18 times by President Bush and 19 times by President Obama. It is also of great import to note that the scope of the authorization is not limited solely to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but has also been employed in countries ranging from the Philippines and Georgia to Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
Curtis A. Bradley and Jack A. Goldsmith at Yale Law provide an analysis of the use of the authorization by the Obama Administration in a an article entitled “Obama’s AUMF Legacy” which appeared in August, 2016. In a clear indictment of the AUMF, the authors note,
“The transformation of the AUMF from an authorization to use force against the
9/11 perpetrators who planned an attack from Afghanistan into a protean foundation for indefinite war against an assortment of related terrorist organizations in numerous
countries is one of the most remarkable legal developments in American public law in the still-young twenty-first century.”
The notion of endless or indefinite war waged beyond congressional and public scrutiny at the discretion of whomsoever happens to sit in the Oval Office is something that, now more than ever, we should deeply question.
What is Being Done in Our Name, and Where?
The highly publicized deaths of four Special Operations soldiers in Niger several weeks ago offers an opportunity for the populace and members of Congress to question the use of military assets at the behest and sole direction of the White House.
As has come to light, the four soldiers who were killed operated under the umbrella of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). One of six regional commands under the control of the United States’ Department of Defense, the command is relatively new. Created on February 6, 2007 by the Bush Administration. Initially subordinate to the European Command, AFRICOM achieved greater autonomy in October 2008 becoming a unified regional command. Charged with military relations and direction involving 53 African nations, the command has expanded greatly and very quickly.
Budgetary allocations are a testament to this rapid expansion: “The U.S. Africa Command transition team was budgeted for approximately $50 million in Fiscal Year 2007, and the command received $75.5 million for Fiscal Year 2008 and $310 million for Fiscal Year 2009”, as noted by Global Security. These numbers, however, should also be viewed with some level of awareness that they do not include allocations under the so-called “Black Budget” nor do they fully include potential funding streams for clandestine intelligence operations conducted by a plethora of agencies and offices.
It is very difficult to obtain precise information regarding military assets involved, as well as, the exact nature of their involvements. In 2014, the Washington Post published an article listing the nations where US military assets were on the ground, the following nations were cited; Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic or CAR, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DAR), South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. It should be noted that this list does not include clandestine personnel operating under the aegis and authorization of the Central Intelligence Agency nor does it take into account periodic joint operations with a variety of additional nations such as Egypt. Furthermore, clandestine operations utilizing drones or American aerial assets are not incorporated in the list.
Endless Wars Fought Beyond Public View and Congressional Scrutiny
As the aforementioned deaths of four Green Berets in the African Republic of Niger call attention to our many military involvements, the time has come to question both the scope and the spiraling costs–both human and economic–of the never-ending Global War on Terror (GWOT). How long will we, as a nation, allow this to continue?
The perpetrators of 9\11 are long dead, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have lost tens of thousands of members in combat operations from Afghanistan to Iraq and from Yemen to Syria. We are currently involved in overt military actions–let’s just call them wars–in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Kenya and Somalia….and now we can add Niger to the list. In truth, we simply do not know the full extent of our involvements as recent events highlight. The costs continue to sky-rocket and we must ask whether or not a nation that is 20 trillion dollars in debt can continue to wage apparently endless conflicts without any discernible legislative braking involved.
Perhaps most alarming of all is the alarm generated by the current inhabitants of the White House. President Trump, in the estimation and assessment of informed, rational observers, seems singularly incapable of exercising not only good judgement but measured restraint in his actions. Do we really wish to allow this President the continued, unrestrained authority to wage war anywhere at any time?