Will we see a left-right alliance against broad warmaking authority for Obama?

With Senators and Members of the House returning from recess, one looming question is whether Congress will figure out a way to pass a measure authorizing President Obama’s escalation against the Islamic State. Coming a mere six months after that escalation began, this whole episode is already suffused with absurdity. But passing something might make it marginally less absurd, which is all we can hope for at this point.

Politico today quotes a number of liberal Democrats who are threatening to withhold support for the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Obama has requested because they want more limits placed on it. (I agree, for the reasons I’ve laid out here). Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing for an AUMF that contains fewer limits on Obama’s warmaking authority (and on that of his successor, who could of course be a Republican). The upshot is that if anything passes, it could either look something like Obama’s insufficiently limited AUMF, perhaps tilted only a bit towards the looser authorization Republicans want, or it might be much broader, in keeping with demands from GOP leaders who are likely to move the bill in their direction as the process unfolds.

Either scenario would probably prompt a revolt from Democrats, but the unfortunate reality is that we’re more likely to see a broader AUMF than a more limited one.


Which raises a question: If Congress does move towards a far-too-broad grant of warmaking authority, what are the prospects for a left-right alliance against it, in which libertarian Republicans who worry about national security overreach join with progressive anti-war Democrats in opposition to Congressional leaders on both sides?


Dem Rep. Adam Schiff, a leader of the push for a more limited AUMF, is reaching out to libertarian Republicans in hopes of crafting such an alliance. Schiff and other liberals want repeal of the 2001 AUMF against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, which Obama used (absurdly) to justify the current campaign against ISIL; without repeal, any new AUMF is unlikely to mean much. They also want the language tightened to make it clearer what ground troops can be used for and who can be targeted, and to circumscribe the authorization geographically, to prevent another lurch back towards an open-ended War on Terror. Schiff is hoping at least some Republicans join him:


“I suspect that there are a number of libertarian-oriented Republicans who share the same concerns. It will be interesting to see how many of them there are and how they line up,” Schiff said. “A lot will depend on how many Republicans will be similarly uncomfortable with another open-ended authorization.”


It’s a good question. The 70-strong Congressional Progressive Caucus has already come out against Obama’s AUMF on the grounds that it’s too broad. You’d think this would be a no-brainer for libertarian-leaning Republicans.


We’ve seen this coalition come together twice already on national security issues. First came the 2013 amendment offered by GOP Rep. Justin Amash to defund NSA surveillance, which was only defeated narrowly after a left-right alliance came together in a startling rebuke to Congressional leaders on both sides who were standing up for the surveillance/national security state status quo. And then, later that year when Obama began talking up military strikes on Syria in response to chemical weapons atrocities, a surprising number of libertarian Republicans and anti-war Democrats from that very same coalition came together to oppose military action. The current debate has some overlap with those: It raises questions as to whether Congress will re-assert its oversight role over executive national security overreach, and could pit Members of Congress on both sides who want that to happen — and are wary of more military conflict — against Congressional leaders who are reluctant to place limits on both of those.


The current AUMF debate is probably coming too late to make all that much of a difference. As it stands, it is only the latest chapter in a decades-long trend which has seen a steady normalization of unilateral war-making from presidents and Congress’ steady abdication of its role in asserting itself over military decisions. But it’s not too late for Members of Congress who are unhappy with what’s happening here to step up and make some kind of statement against it. In many cases, these left-right alliances, even if they show initial promise, have a tendency to fail to materialize. It would be unfortunate if that happened here, too.

Source: Washington Post