THE BLOG

Authorization to Use Military Force Against ISIS Is Too Broad

02/12/2015 03:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

Even before the President laid out the language for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force, to be employed in the continuing efforts to combat ISIS, the debate in DC started to rage. Some wondered if we would be better served if we finally repealed the 2001 broad and open-ended authorization, given to President Bush to combat terrorism, in favor of more frequent requests for authorization for more specific operations. Others, led by Senator John McCain, wondered if we should just essentially pass another version of the 2001 authorization, giving the President broad authority.

From a military perspective, however, the new authorization lacks doctrinal rigor. It is so broad, that the following section raises more questions than it answers:

"The authority granted in subsection (a) does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations."

"Enduring offensive ground operations." What is that? From a military point-of-view, it's a bunch nonsense. It is so broad that anything could be construed to not fall under that description.

For instance, say our military advisors in Iraq are attacked by ISIS. Technically, we could deploy 20,000 ground troops to push ISIS back and retake control of areas, but say it is technically a "defensive" operation, to give the Iraqi Army and our troops the space and security they need to operate. But, let's not be coy - there would be no doubt it would be an offensive operation.

In fact, we already know that there's a plan in the works for forces, with our assistance, to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS control. Would this authorization be broad enough to allow for the President to send American ground troops to fight alongside them? Quite possibly, because it could be deemed a limited operation.

To that point, what's the line of demarcation that separates "limited" operations from "enduring" operations? A year? Five years? Ten?

Last year, Senator Bob Menendez unveiled his own version of an authorization. Here is how he limited ground operations:

(e) Limitations.--The authority granted in subsection (c) does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces for the purpose of ground combat operations except as necessary--
(1) for the protection or rescue of members of the United States Armed Forces or United States citizens from imminent danger posed by ISIL;
(2) to conduct limited operations against high value targets; or
(3) to conduct missions not intended to result in ground combat operations by United States forces, such as--
(i) intelligence collection and sharing;
(ii) enabling kinetic strikes;
(iii) operational planning; or
(iv) other forms of advice and assistance to forces fighting ISIL in Iraq or Syria.

While not perfect, this is much more clear, and limiting. We can debate whether it includes things that ought not be authorized, or if it should include more. We can even debate whether some language should be tightened up a bit, to limit false interpretation. But, generally, the way it is written is much more clear, and less open to interpretation. Certainly it is much more clear that the Authorization than the President has submitted.

The President should be applauded for coming to Congress, seeking new authority, and not just resting upon the 2001 Authorization, as he has previously done. He is also to be applauded for asking for a repeal of the 2003 authorization used for the war in Iraq, and for setting a three-year limit on this new authorization.

It is clear that, unlike the previous administration, President Obama is willing to accept definition and limitation to the kinds of efforts to which he commits our military. In fact, both of us served in a protracted war in Iraq, under the 2003 resolution, which was extremely broad, and ill-defined. We can tell you, things can quickly spiral out of control, when there are no limits.

And so, the limits under this new authorization, proposed by President Obama, are an important distinction, which we hope will carry on through future administrations.

However, on maybe the most important limit -- the limit on types of operations our ground troops can be committed to -- the language is too broad, and leaves too much room for drawn-out combat missions. Given that, we cannot support the authorization, as it currently stands.