This article is the first in a three-part series on legal issues surrounding American involvement in conflicts in the Middle East.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is a terror organization with roots as a member of al Qaeda in Iraq. Since its split from al Qaeda, ISIS has gained worldwide attention for its brutally gruesome attacks on civilians and threats to the United States, Canada, and Europe.
President Obama has responded to this threat by spearheading a coalition to eradicate ISIS. Additionally, Obama has ordered and approved multiple military actions against ISIS in Syria. These decisions were welcome news for a majority of Americans who believe that action must be taken against ISIS. Yet, lingering questions remain as to whether the military actions taken by the president were constitutional.
Thus far, Obama has been adamant that he does not plan on using American soldiers to combat ISIS. Instead, the president requested that Congress approve aiding and training the Syrian rebel fighters in order to better equip them to fight ISIS themselves. Congress approved of such a request, voting seventy-eight to twenty-two in its favor.
However, Obama has also approved of direct military action, encompassing airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. These airstrikes have sparked debate about whether or not it is constitutionally appropriate for the president to be able to order such attacks.
One way of thinking is that the president has the authorization to use military force against ISIS under the War Powers Clause in Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. However, the White House is claiming a more unique explanation for how the president is authorized to use such force.
The White House has stated that Obama has the authority to order airstrikes against ISIS because of the power granted to him under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The AUMF was passed after the September 11th attacks, and gave then-President Bush the power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against persons involved with the September 11th terrorist attacks, for the purpose of “prevent[ing] any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” The Obama administration argues that the AUMF would allow for airstrikes in Syria and Iraq because ISIS was a faction of al Qaeda, the organization that masterminded the attacks, even though the two groups are now separate from one another.
Criticism is beginning to mount against the president’s actions, not because of the opposition to the force being used, but because of how the Obama Administration is claiming that it has authorization.
Recently it has been discussed that a more “narrowly tailored” AUMF may be passed that directly addresses the issues and scope of presidential authority that the current conflict with ISIS presents. Such a solution initially appears to have bipartisan support, however there is no timetable for when such a new authorization could be passed. Currently, lawmakers are back in their respective districts until after mid-term elections.