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General Turned Congressman: Lawmakers Can No Longer Duck Responsibility on AUMF

U.S. Marine advisors with Task Force Southwest emplace C-4 blocks into a munitions pit at Camp Shorabak, Afghanistan, on Aug. 9, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lucas Hopkins)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) called on Congress this week to stop ducking responsibility to authorize military force in today’s war on terror, as another bipartisan group of lawmakers has banded together in pushing for a new AUMF.

The last AUMFs were established in 2001 and 2002, allowing military force against Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and Iraq and Saddam Hussein, respectively. Those authorizations have since been used in carrying out military activity in 14 different countries, but lawmakers have been pushing for a new AUMF in order to adjust to the ever-changing threat of terror groups and new battlefields.

“To go a decade and a half without being engaged with this and debate on it, I think it sends a bad message,” Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, said in an interview with PJM this week. “And two, it is a different country — we’re talking Syria now — and a different threat, ISIS versus al-Qaeda. I think we’re being very loose saying that the framework of 2001 applies today.”

Bacon joined Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) in introducing a joint resolution that would update the president’s authority in using military action against enemies. The new resolution would allow a five-year sunset for military action against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS (and any associated groups), but it would require congressional authorization to declare war against specific countries.

Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a similarly structured AUMF in May, with Kaine saying that Congress is “pretty good at avoiding tough issues.” Bacon made similar comments during the interview, saying he anticipates pushback for the new AUMF for that very reason.

“They would rather let the operations continue, and if things go south you can blame the administration,” the freshman Nebraska Republican said. “Or you can take credit when things are going well, and I think that that’s not right. I think it’s ducking our responsibility.”

Bacon noted that he agrees with the actions that President Trump has taken in Afghanistan and Syria. The president in April ordered a strike against a Syrian government airfield following President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical attack on civilians. The White House, which outlined its Afghanistan strategy in August, has signaled interest in increasing troop levels in that country.

“I personally support our operations in Syria and Afghanistan right now,” Bacon said. “But I think it’s important that the military and the American people see that Congress is invested in this, debate it and either approve it or don’t, and that’s why I support that.”

Gallego said in a statement that the joint resolution will refocus efforts for the battle against terrorism and prevent unauthorized use of military force against other countries or people. For too long, he said, Congress has “allowed our armed forces to be used with ever more tenuous links to a vague and obsolete Authorization of Military Force.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis voiced support for a new AUMF this month while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. He told lawmakers that the AUMF requires the unity of the federal government and Congress.

“The U.S. Congress has got to embrace this as our fight,” he said. “We’re all in this.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford has also signaled support for a new AUMF.