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MyTurn: Corker-Kaine AUMF – Celebrate the process, but vote down the result



For the Monitor
Sunday, July 08, 2018

At a time of extraordinary polarization, the Corker-Kaine Authorization for the Use of MilitaryForce stands out for the serious, bipartisan policy-making work that has gone into the legislation.

Unfortunately, however much we applaud this effort, the end result is a dangerous bill that would expand the president’s powers to deploy military force without Congressional authorization. If the bill comes to a vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should vote no.

There are a range of issues with the bill, including the lack of a clear “sunset” clause automatically terminating the authorization to use force after a certain period of time, but the most concerning aspect of the legislation is that it would codify the ability for President Donald Trump (and any president in the future) to deploy military force without Congressional approval.

Corker-Kaine gives the president explicit authority to continue using military power against the Taliban, al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and “associated forces” such the Haqqani Network (terrorist group active in Afghanistan and Pakistan); and it empowers the president to designate new “associated forces” (excluding sovereign nations) against which military force is authorized. In the event a president designates a new “associated force,” Congress can pass legislation denying the authorization to use force, but the president can veto any such legislation.

This would legitimize an unprecedented concentration of war-making authority in the presidency (for a period when we have not actually declared war) and enshrine in law Congress’s abdication of its responsibilities under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (provide for the common defense … declare war … raise and support Armies, etc.).

Corker-Kaine would, as noted by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., “transfer the power to name the enemy and its location from Congress to the president.”

The immediate potential ramifications, should this bill pass, include President Trump using the AUMF to launch attacks against groups in Iran, Pakistan or North Korea, precipitating a regional or global war. This alone is reason enough to reject the bill. But there is another reason we should reject the Corker-Kaine AUMF – passing the bill would accelerate America’s decline.

Our strength and prosperity depend on our ability to wield a multiplicity of tools in advancing our national interest. American well-being requires diplomatic and other non-military capabilities that the Corker-Kaine AUMF would render defunct by providing the president with such extraordinary latitude over the use of military force. As we have experienced over the past many years, when presidents wield unchecked authority over military action, this becomes the default choice to address any threat, and increasingly any foreign situation, our country faces.

It is easy to understand why presidents default to military force. Non-military measures take time, the indicators of progress are elusive, and diplomacy necessitates conceding some freedom of action on our part to allow partners to take on genuine responsibility. At a time when we face threats from a host of hostile actors and when Congress shows little interest in shouldering meaningful responsibility for the consequences of our foreign policy. Presidents will use the tool over which they exert the most direct and immediate control – the military.

Yet it is equally clear this erosion of our diplomatic and other non-military capabilities undermines our long-term security. We see the costs in the sacrifices members of the military and their families take on; in our inability to effectively respond to Russia’s hostile attacks and China’s aggressive actions in the Asia-Pacific; and in the rise in support for authoritarian regimes and fascist ideologues across the globe (including here at home).

If Congress had to vote to authorize the use of military force, its members would feel the responsibility for every service member sent into danger. Holding Congress clearly accountable in this way would create strong incentives to invest more in our diplomatic and other non-military capabilities. This might also engender more bi-partisan approaches to foreign policy as members of Congress would feel greater pressure to work on solutions to national security threats and challenges.

The Corker-Kaine AUMF presents unacceptable risks. If it comes up for a vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should vote it down. We need a legislative framework for the use of military power which compels Congress to shoulder its Constitutional responsibilities over how and when America goes to war.

(Dan Vallone is a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. He lives in Concord. Views expressed are his own.)