POLITICS
09/15/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2014

Bill Targets ISIS And The Endless War On Terror

WASHINGTON -- Even as it declares war on the so-called Islamic State, a bill proposed in Congress would also try to extricate the United States from the endless war on terror.

The nation declared war on al Qaeda and its backers in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, enacting a 61-word description of the enemy in an authorization to use military force so broad it has been used to justify such things as the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects -- including Americans -- and targeted drone strikes anywhere -- including against Americans.

The administration of President Barack Obama has said it would welcome a new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, but also contends the old one applies to the Islamic State (or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, as it's also known), which did not exist in 2001, and is now a rival of al Qaeda. And while the White House has asked Congress to approve some $500 million to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight the group, it has insisted it does not need new authority to conduct a war against the extremists occupying large sections of Syria and Iraq.

Many members of Congress disagree, and a bill circulated Monday by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) may offer a way for the president to both wage a new, targeted war, and end the post-9/11 authorization and Iraq war declaration.

The bill would grant Obama 18 months to target ISIS only in Iraq and Syria. It also would repeal the Iraq war authorization and end the 2001 AUMF in 18 months. The White House would have to ask Congress for additional authority if it thought it was needed.

"It's really essential that Congress vote on an authorization, thumbs up or thumbs down," Schiff said. "In the context where the administration has said this is a war effort that is likely to last years, that is quintessentially something that falls within Congress's power to declare or not declare.

"I'm concerned that if we don't act now, future presidents will conclude that the declaration clause is a historical artifact of a bygone era," Schiff said.

While both liberals and conservatives have insisted Congress should vote on a new authorization, leaders in both chambers and both parties have signaled no urgency to do so before the November elections.

Schiff said he was unsure how many members would embrace his approach. But he said he thought most want to make any new authorization much more precise than the 2001 measure. But he said it wouldn't matter if they don't also address the old law, since the White House could keep doing whatever else it wants in the war on terror as long as the 2001 declaration remains in effect.

"Even if we sunset the new AUMF, the administration can always say that it can continue operating because the old one has no expiration date," Schiff said. "That sunset date will have no impact unless we repeal the old one."

Congress is likely to pass Obama's request for money and training this week. Schiff and others said they hoped to take on the broader questions so that "Congress is forced to harmonize the legal framework under which the president can use force."

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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