By Congressman Tom Cole
For the past sixteen years, the United States has been engaged in several military conflicts, primarily, but not exclusively, in the Middle East. Unfortunately, after eight years of President Obama’s erratic and uninformed foreign policy, the threats to the United States have only grown. President Trump has declared a more aggressive approach to fighting terrorism, and his actions give every indication that – unlike President Obama – when this President draws a line in the sand, crossing it will have consequences.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, President Bush asked for, and received, an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against those responsible for the attacks. The authorization granted the President the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the terrorist attacks. The following year, President Bush sought, and was granted, a separate AUMF in Iraq. Despite being in a state of war for the next fifteen years, no President has sought further authorization.
I applaud President Trump’s decision to act swiftly and decisively against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad after the dictator killed dozens of his own citizens, including women and children, with a deadly chemical attack. Similarly, I think the President was justified in his decision to take out one of the largest base camps of ISIS in Afghanistan. However, President Trump is bound by law and the Constitution to seek an AUMF before he embarks on any sustained engagement with any nation or organization.
After President Obama expanded our engagement to places like Libya, I was among the first to call for him to seek an AUMF. I have no doubt Congress would have granted it. Unfortunately, President Obama not only refused to seek authorization, but also made the absurd claim that the 2001 and 2002 authorizations allowed him to use military force as he saw fit.
I am a firm believer that the President and his military advisors ought to be given maximum flexibility when it comes to the strategy of waging war. However, I am also a firm believer that the Congress has a role in committing our troops to battle. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 states clearly that the President cannot commit the United States to an armed conflict without the consent of the U.S. Congress.
Going forward, President Trump needs to seek an AUMF from this Congress before taking further military action. If he does, I am again confident that it will be granted, and that he will be given maximum flexibility to exercise his best judgement when combatting terrorism.
America has effectively been in a state of war for the past sixteen years. We are literally fighting to protect our freedoms and our way of life. And we have laws in place that make clear Congress is the only branch in our government who can declare war. If a president can ignore the federal law and the Constitution, by waging war whenever and wherever he sees fit, what are we fighting for anyway?