White House wants new OK for 'evolving' terror fight
By JOSH GERSTEIN |
7/26/14 6:57 PM EDT
ASPEN, Colo.—A top White House official suggested Saturday that Congress pass new legislation to support President Barack Obama's authority to act against an array of terrorist groups not clearly linked to the September 11 attacks.
White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco said the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed three days after the 2001 strikes is dated and becoming less useful as radical groups with an anti-American bent metastasize to various parts of the world.
"The 2001 AUMF has provided us authority to go after terrorist actors and address the threats that they pose that fit within that definition. We are now 13, 14 years on from that and we’re seeing the emergence of other actors," Monaco said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. "I think there absolutely is a reason to have an authority to enable us to take the fight to these evolving terrorists that we’ve talked about."
In a speech last year, Obama said the U.S. shouldn't be "on a perpetual wartime footing" and he appeared to call for a wind-down of the 2001 measure, which was akin to a declaration of war.
"Groups like [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States," the president said at the National Defense University in May 2013. "Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So, I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further."
However, Monaco indicated Saturday that White House views refining the use-of-force measure as potentially encompassing a definition of the enemy that would actually be expanded from the current measure, which is limited to entities linked to the 2001 attacks and associated forces.
"What the president said at NDU was that he wanted to refine and ultimately repeal that authority. It does not mean, however, that we wouldn’t want to seek a narrowed, potentially narrowed version of that to allow us to go after and address emerging terrorist threats that may not come under this current 2001 authority—because I think it is his preference to always be acting with Congressional and statutory authority whenever possible," Monaco said.
Civil liberties and human rights groups were pleased with Obama's remarks last year because they appeared to signal a desire to return to something closer to a law enforcement model to deal with terrorist threats. Monaco's comments suggest that the White House wants to retain military authority and refocus it on newly-emerging extremist groups. That didn't sit well will some who've been pressing for the AUMF's repeal.
"The best way for this administration to deal with emerging threats from terrorism is to move off a war footing and limit the use of military force to the imminent threats that truly require it," said Human Rights First's Raha Wala, who was present at the Aspen forum and questioned Monaco about her remarks. "A new AUMF to deal with emerging threats is unnecessary, legally problematic, and likely to undermine counterterrorism cooperation with foreign partners," he added.
Recent developments in Syria and Iraq could be adding to the Obama Administration's sense of urgency about the legal basis for military action. Obama has sent several hundred U.S. military advisers to Iraq to assess the prospects for a fight to repel advances by the militant group Islamic State in Syria, which has emerged from the civil war in Syria to take over large swaths of western and central Iraq.
Monaco also said that the administration is planning for the possibility that those American advisers determine that Iraqi forces are too divided to fight off further ISIS advances or it turns out that factions of Iraq's central government are unwilling to reach a power-sharing agreement that could sustain a sustained campaign against the radical ISIS group.
"So, you are developing a Plan B?" PBS Newshour correspondent Margaret Warner asked Monaco.
"Yes," the White House adviser replied, declining to elaborate.
New U.S. military action in Iraq could likely be justified legally on the basis of aid to an American ally. While Obama has ruled out putting American troops back into combat, U.S. drone or airstrikes are a live possibility, including potentially strikes of ISIS positions in Syria. That type of action could raise questions about Obama's authority in the absence of explicit Congressional approval or the kind of new or revised AUMF resolution Monaco discussed Saturday.
A separate AUMF resolution regarding Iraq was passed by Congress in 2002, but the Obama Administration has called for the measure's repeal. In a letter to Congress Friday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that even if that AUMF is repealed, the president would act militarily to protect American interests and would "consult closely with leaders in Congress" about such moves.