Authorization for Use of Military Force gives president 'blank check' in war on terror

9/11 provision needs to change with times

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As Congress heads into August recess, there’s one issue Stephen Vladeck says we need to “howl at the moon” to address.

Vladeck, a leading counter terrorism expert and law professor at American University, is part of a growing debate concerning America’s future efforts in fighting terrorism abroad.

At issue is a 60-word document passed by Congress only three days after 9/11, the Authorization to Use Military Force, or the AUMF.

[RELATED: Listen to DecodeDC's latest podcast for more on the AUMF debate]

The provision gave President George W. Bush the authority to go after those responsible for the September 11 attacks, but 13 years later is the United States fighting the same war? And what role should the country take on the global stage in the fight against terror?

“Congress was actually quite responsible in limiting that authorization to those groups who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. As we get further and further away from 9/11, the threats we face become increasingly more about groups unconnected to 9/11,” Vladeck says.

Although not explicitly stated, the AUMF authorizes force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which made sense at the time, says Vladeck. But the intervening years have seen the rise of groups unconnected to 9/11 like ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq, which the AUMF does not apply to.

Vladeck also takes issue with the broad authority given to the president under the AUMF.

“Should we give the president and future presidents a blank check to use military force proactively and preemptively anywhere in the world? In short, do we really want a worldwide war on terrorism?” he asks.

Vladeck argues that giving the president broader power will ultimately result in the U.S. assuming the mantle of the world’s terrorism police. And that, he says, leads to a greater financial and military commitment on behalf of the country.

It may come as no surprise that the AUMF has been put on the back burner because of how complicated of an issue it is politically.

“It’s an enormous source of problems that have to be confronted, and all we’re doing by putting off the conversation is raising the stakes,” he says.

Vladeck faults the Obama administration for failing to take a clear stance on the issue.

“This is an administration that for better or for worse likes to conduct its national security policy through speeches,” he says. “And so part of the frustration for those of us, even those of us who are sympathetic to the administration’s stance on most of these issues, is the administration commits to providing leadership and then backs off.”

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