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David versus Goliath: Interest groups in the ongong debate over Congressional Authorization for use of Military Force (AUMF) against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

 

The United States is currently in a “de-facto” state of war with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Obama administration is justifying military action under the pretext of existing Congressional Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) but has called for policymakers to establish guidelines for escalating the conflict. The ongoing debate for an AUMF against ISIL is susceptible to influence from interest groups in favor of large scale military operations and those in opposition. The disparity in political capital, financial resources and public support of these organizations will redefine the U.S. response against ISIL especially in the time period before the 2016 Presidential election.

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a transnational terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda, assaulted northern Iraq with a level of complexity and tenacity that rivaled the 1940 Nazi Blitzkrieg of France. In the wake of this attack, the U.S.-trained Iraq army capitulated losing control of sovereign territory from the border with Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad. Northern Iraqi is an area rich in crude oil with the infrastructure required to refine and transfer oil to markets in Europe and Central Asia. This territory provided ISIL with a significant economic gain while destabilizing global financial markets.

ISIL

Within ISIL controlled areas, numerous massed killings and human rights violations as well as the imposition of strict religious law led the United Nations to call for an international coalition to provide humanitarian and security assistance.[1] In response, the United States government initially pledged financial support to support the Iraqi army as well sanctions against ISIL economic activity. However, following the beheadings of two American aid workers by ISIL, President Obama ordered U.S military air strikes against targets within Iraq and Syria.[2] Subsequently, the President authorized U.S. military advisors to assist the Iraqi Army in command & control of U.S. airstrikes as well as training for future ground operations.

By the State of the Union Address on January 20, 2015, almost 3,000 U.S military advisors had deployed to Iraq to support daily airstrikes against ISIL targets. However, under the current order, U.S. military personnel are not authorized to participate in combat operations against ISIL.[3] During the national address, President Obama issued a request to Congress “to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.”[4] On January 28, 2015 Congressman Adam Schiff (D), representing California’s 28th District to include areas of Los Angeles, introduced legislation authorizing the use of military force against ISIL. If passed in its current form, the legislation would limit military operations to three years, terminate any current AUMFs under which the President is operating in Iraq and prevent American ground forces from engaging in a combat missions.[5]

 

The Debate over AUMF

The Congressional Authorization for the use of Military Force (AUMF) is a development of the 20th Century, specifically the post-WWII era, designed to reconcile the military powers of the President. Article I of the U.S. Constitution effectively grants Congress the authority to raise, maintain and grant use of the Federal Armed Forces while Article II gives the command of those forces during military campaigns.[6]The AUMF is not currently a legal requirement for the use of military force and was not utilized during the conflicts in Korea or Vietnam.

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Congress has issued two AUMF’s to counter the threats posed by terrorist networks both in Afghanistan and Iraq.[7] Given the adaptive and transnational nature of terrorist organizations, the President is utilizing these previous Congressional mandates as a legal authorization for the war against ISIL. However, the President’s comments during the State of the Union Address and the proposals of Congressman Schiff reflect the ongoing debate amongst political leadership on the legality of continued U.S. airstrikes and increased military advisors without a specific AUMF against ISIL.

The Congressional discussion over the AUMF is not strictly limited to the necessity of such a bill to combat ISIL but also the scope, size and budget of military action. The 2001 AUMF against the 9/11 conspirators did not establish geographic limits to military operations and has been utilized by two administrations to conduct attacks outside Afghanistan such as in Yemen and the Philippines. Additionally, the type and nature of military activities can be directed by Congress within the framework of the AUMF. In Congressman Schiff’s proposal, the AUMF would not allow U.S. military personnel to participate in combat operations with the exclusion of Army Special Forces in training and intelligence roles.[8] Lastly, the current AUMF makes no mention limiting the number of troops or budget allowances as seen in previous Congressional Mandates. The various topics for debate within the AUMF framework as well as its its overall necessity have made this proposal a target for multiple interests groups.

 

Veterans for Peace

VFP

Veterans for Peace (VFP) is a 501 c(3) nonprofit organization originally founded during the final years of the Cold War to advocate against U.S. military involvement in the internal affairs of other countries.[9] VFP is comprised of veterans from multiple wars and requires applicants to submit a copy of their military record to verify veterans’ status.[10] The group’s key activities include political demonstrations, educational events and petitions against current U.S. foreign policies. The organization has not reported any campaign funding to political leadership but does hold an annual member’s only convention to develop advocacy positions related to current political affairs.

In 2004, VFP members from the Iraq War created a subsidiary organization called the Iraq Veterans against the War (IVAW) designed to raise awareness and conduct political advocacy against U.S. military operations in Iraq. In 2013, VFP reported receiving almost $500,000 in private donations and memberships dues.[11] The IVAW financial reports have not been released for 2014 and are restricted only to members their website.

Since the commencement of U.S. military action against ISIL, both the VFP and IVAW have issued statements condemning the use of force citing their own experiences in previous wars as justification for their opposition.[12] The IVAW have expressed their belief that U.S. involvement in Iraq is immoral due to the financial gain of U.S. businesses at the expense of innocent Iraqi civilians. Additionally, the IVAW warns that the U.S. support of “freedom-fighters” during training and advisory missions presents a future national security threat to the United States since historically the agendas of local forces have misaligned with U.S. policy.[13] While neither the VFP nor IVAW have explicitly stated opposition to the recently proposed AUMF against ISIL, it is logical to assume that neither organization will support the use of military force in any form.

 

Alliance for a Strong America

alliance-for-a-strong-america-

The Alliance for a Stronger America (ASA) is a 501 c(4) social welfare organization founded in 2014 by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, Elizabeth Cheney. The ASA’s mission is to directly oppose foreign policy efforts of the Obama Administration and advocate for policies to ensure American Global Power.[14] The group’s stated activities include policy advocacy, information briefs to citizens, policymakers and candidates as well as supporting national media awareness of national security Issues.

The ASA is just one organization within a larger network of 501 c(3) nonprofits and 501 c(4) social welfare groups sponsored by the Cheney family.[15] Under current Internal Revenue Service code, a 501 c(4) may promote social welfare issues through political activities including lobbying without directly intervening or supporting political campaigns. Additionally, the 501 c(4) status does not require the APS to disclose donor contributions.[16] Due to these allowances and the fact that the ASA has yet to release their 2014 Financial report, it is unclear what financial power this organization may be able to yield in the current debate of over the AUMF against ISIL. However, other organizations within the Cheney Family nonprofit network have received over $1 million donations from private citizens since the 2012 Presidential election.[17]

On the same day as President Obama’s order to strike ISIL, former Vice President Cheney argued for a strategy utilizing U.S. airpower and Special Forces in a comprehensive counteroffensive against ISIL. Additionally, he described a personal visit he had made to the Middle East during the escalating crisis to gather support for such military operations and curtail confusion expressed by allies in the region over the administration’s policies.[18] These comments suggest that the former Vice President and the ASA would support an AUMF allowing for U.S. military forces to engage in combat operations without distinction of the international border between Iraq and Syria. The ASA has not yet released a response to the current AUMF proposal in the Congress.

Is Dick Cheney Supporting Obama? 

“David vs. Goliath” Influence- Irrespective of the ethical or legal debates over the use of military force, the ASA possesses a significant political and global influence compared to the resources available to the IVAW or VFP. The financial resources, global political network and celebrity status of the Cheney family allows the ASA to dominate media venues and approach current policymakers across party lines. Based on the ASA stated goals, the organization will most likely support rhetoric related to the approval of an ambiguous (i.e. less restrictive) AUMF.

In contrast, the VFP and IAVW are significantly limited by their size, resources and activities. As a result, these organizations will have little influence at the national or federal levels and will only be able to minimally influence their local communities. The stated objectives of the VFP and IAVW favor policies related to the disapproval for the use of force and will most likey not support an AUMF even if highly restrictive. Given the current disparity between the two separate interest’s influences, the VFP and IAVW will need to adapt their strategies including the use of social media technologies in order to compete within the ASA in the impending political battle that parallels the setting in the story of David versus Goliath in the Old Testament (not to mean that either group is inherently right or just in this situation).

Civil-Military Apathy- The legality of the AUMF against ISIL will be debated within the houses of Congress and if necessary the Supreme Court, however the ethical consideration for use of force is reinforced through public opinion. The latest Gallup poll related to the use of force in Iraq and Syria found that over half of the American population unsupportive or apathetic.[19] In this context, the APA is at a significant disadvantage because in order to sway public opinion, they will have to expend numerous resources and time to justify the threat posed by ISIL to the national Security of the United States.

The approval of an AUMF even with the exclusions of certain missions and geographic limitations will place U.S. military personnel at risk. Following the recent execution of a Jordanian Air Force pilot by ISIL, the U.S. Armed Forces will be operating under increased constraints to prevent any future incidents (think back to the restrictive ROEs during the later years of OEF/OIF). While the AUMF may ultimately allow the use of force, both the Executive and Congressional Leadership will be weary of establishing policies that call for increased military action without popular support due to the accompanying poltical risk. Thus, both the ASA and VFP including the IAVW will have to assess their ability to sway the American public utilizing their current resources.

 

Conclusion

obama_cheney

The development of AUMFs has been an iterative process since 9/11. Thus, efforts to indentify the proper means to combat threats within legal and ethical constraints will be debated for years to come. Hovever, the rise of ISIL during a period of increased public apathy towards foreign wars and the beginning of the 2016 Presidential campaign brings a increased pressure on policymakers and potential candidates to approve an AUMF that effectively balances national security concerns with a proper military response. At either ends of the debate are those who supported the intial invasion of Iraq believing that they were keeping American safe and those veterans who served overseas who do not wish to see both other military members and civilians hurt in another American-lead conflict in the region.

 

A U.S. response to end needless human suffering at the hands of extremists falls in the spectrum between diplomatic negotiatons and full scale war. The approval or disapproveal of an AUMF against ISIL will provide the first indication to the world of American willpower and aptitude for future conflict post-Afghanistan. One thing is for certain: President Obama and former Vice President Cheney, whether they realize it or not, are on the same team in this game.

 

[1] United Nations Security Council Press Statement on Iraq. (2014, August 7). Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11515.doc.htm

[2] Statement by the President on ISIL. (2014, September 10). Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/10/statement-president-isil-1

[3]   Statement by the President on ISIL. (2014, September 10). Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/10/statement-president-isil-1

[4] State of the Union Address . (2014, January 20). Retrieved February 7, 2015, from State of the Union http://www.whitehouse.gov/sotu

[5] Office of Congressman Adam Schiff Press Release. (2015, January 28). Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://schiff.house.gov/press-releases/rep-adam-schiff-introducing-narrowlytailored-authorization-for-use-of-military-force-against-isil/

[6] U.S. Constitution Article’s I and II.

[7] Gude, K. (2014). Understanding Authorizations for the Use of Military Force. Retrieved February 7, 2015, from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/report/2014/09/24/97748/understanding-authorizations-for-the-use-of-military-force/

[8] Schiff , 2015.

[9] Veterans for Peace Statement of Purpose, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.veteransforpeace.org/who-we-are/

[10] Membership Criteria VFP, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.veteransforpeacela.org/join.html

[11] IRS Form 990, 2013 VFP Financial Disclosure, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.veteransforpeace.org/who-we-are/financial-reports/

[12] VFP Statement on Iraq, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.veteransforpeace.org/our-work/position-statements/veterans-oppose-us-bombing-iraq-and-syria/

[13]IAVW Statement on Iraq, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.ivaw.org/blog/ivaw-statement-crisis-iraq

[14] Overview Alliance for a Strong America, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.strongeramerica.com/about

[15] Maguire, R. (2014). Dick Cheney Goes Dark: A Family Network of (c)(4) Groups. Retrieved from http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2014/07/dick-cheney-goes-dark-a-family-network-of-c4-groups

[16] IRS definition of Social Welfare Organizations, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Other-Non-Profits/Social-Welfare-Organizations

[17] Maguire, 2014.

[18] Remarks by Vice President Dick Cheney, Retrieved February 7, 2015, from http://www.strongeramerica.com/2014/09/remarks-vice-president-dick-cheney-american-enterprise-institute/

[19] Jones, J. (2014). Support for Iraq Military Action Low in Historical Context. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/171968/support-iraq-military-action-low-historical-context.aspx?utm_source=Iraq&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=tiles

 

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Chase M

Chase is a former US Army Green Beret, Marine Officer, and graduate of the Naval Academy. He has been deployed several times to the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Chase is currently a graduate student at the University of Southern California. He is the founder of the Ronin Refugee Project to provide emergency support to America's forgotten wartime allies.