There was much enthusiasm in 2008 that President Barack Obama would bring a saner and more lawful approach to issues of foreign policy and war and peace. Six years later – with Americans still being killed in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay still in active operation, US drones killing people in several countries and even American citizens, and now new mischief in Iraq – it is clear that President Obama has done little more than expand the already large war-making powers of his predecessor and fully enabled the vision of a “unitary executive” with unfettered powers in war and peace.
Where is, for example, President Obama’s domestic authorization for the use of force in Iraq against the Islamic State? Obama has taken the position that the 2001 Authorization of Use of Force (“AUMF”) passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, as well as the 2002 AUMF against Iraq passed before that war provide him with the legal basis for further air strikes.
None other than John Yoo, the famous ratifier of torture in the George W. Bush Administration, has rushed to Obama’s defense, claiming that Obama has all the legal authority he needs under the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.
But the notion that these Authorizations support current military action against the Islamic State more than a decade after they were initially passed is highly flawed. The 2001 AUMF was specifically limited to terrorist groups that had planned or aided the 9/11 attacks. There is zero evidence (and no government official has yet argued) that the Islamic State is somehow tied to 9/11.
The 2002 AUMF, which provided the domestic legal basis for the Iraq War, is also untenable as justification for this war as it was based on the purported “threat” posed by Saddam Hussein. Indeed, through his National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Obama himself called for the revocation of the 2002 AUMF in July, mere weeks before now claiming it as a renewed basis for the adventurism in Iraq.