Obama Asks Congress for Authorization to Fight ISIS

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President Obama has officially asked Congress to authorize military force to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). The request was sent in the form of a three-page legislation draft, as well as a letter to the members of Congress. It would create a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF).

The force that Obama requested would be “limited”–although that term is obviously very vague. Essentially, what the Obama Administration is looking for is a three-year long military campaign against ISIS. There wouldn’t be a mass invasion, but rather air force and limited ground support. Particularly, Obama mentioned that U.S. forces would be used for matters “such as rescue operations” or “Special Operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership.” Obama also acknowledged that the emphasis should be on supporting local forces, not sending in American troops, saying, “local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations.”

It’s important to note that American forces have been present in the fight against ISIS for a long time now. Obama had previously justified those actions based on the authorizations of force granted to President George W. Bush after 9/11. This new authorization would provide an update, and serve as a political point for Obama. As he puts in the letter:

Although my proposed AUMF does not address the 2001 AUMF, I remain committed to working with the Congress and the American people to refine, and ultimately repeal, the 2001 AUMF. Enacting an AUMF that is specific to the threat posed by ISIL could serve as a model for how we can work together to tailor the authorities granted by the 2001 AUMF.

Essentially what that means is that Obama still wants to curtail that original 2001 AUMF, which has been decried by many as being too broad, but still be able to use force against ISIS.

The president explained in the letter that the motive behind asking for this authorization to act against ISIS is based on the threat that the group poses to the region, and by extension, the world. He also brought up the actions that ISIS has taken against Americans–particularly the executions of American citizens James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller, all taken as ISIS hostages. Foley and Sotloff were both journalists; Kassig and Mueller were humanitarians and aid workers. News of Mueller’s death came just a few days ago, although unlike the male American hostages, a video was not released of her execution.

So far, political responses to Obama’s request seem tepid at best from Republicans and Democrats alike. Many are aware of the incredible unpopularity of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars at this point. Obama has, at various points, been criticized for being too hesitant and too active in the fight against ISIS. Speaker of the House John Boehner said about the request:

Any authorization for the use of military force must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people. While I believe an A.U.M.F. against ISIL is important, I have concerns that the president’s request does not meet this standard.

Many Democrats were also less than enthused by the request, many of whom appear to think that it’s still too broad. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) stated: “Part of the feedback they’re getting from some members will be unless that is further defined, that might be seen as too big a statement to ultimately embrace.”

There’s a twofold need to balance here. First of all, it’s not surprising that within this hot-blooded, acrimonious political environment disagreements would be obvious. The politics here don’t surprise me. But what’s important to remember is that while Democrats and Republicans, and everyone in between, may fight about what to do against ISIS, no one really has an answer. We haven’t quite figured out how to fight terrorist groups yet; honestly the only thing that can be said with certainty is that they’re not like conventional conflicts. It’s hard to determine whether Obama’s action is right or wrong, and it’s just as difficult to determine which of his critics are right. That being said, what almost certainly won’t work against ISIS is doing nothing–a step toward action is probably a step in the right direction.


Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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