President not justified in actions against ISIS


Michell Prothero/MCT

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters along a frontline position protect the main highway between Kurdish occupied Kirkuk and the capital of the Kurdish Regional Government in Irbil.

In order to combat the Islamic State, President Obama said he would order a “systematic campaign of airstrikes” and commit 475 servicemembers to Iraq. Citing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) law passed on Sept. 14, 2001, President Obama said he has “the authority to address the threat from ISIL.”

Though he said he would rather work with Congress to defeat the terrorist organization, it is important to examine his claim that he has the authority to combat the Islamic State without congressional approval. While the Islamic State certainly poses a threat to stability in the region, is the AUMF enough to conduct attacks against the group?

President Obama’s assertion that he has the authority to commit force to the region may be on thin ice. The 2001 law passed by all but three Congress members allows for the President to use all force necessary to combat people and groups found to have “authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” The law was not written to be an enduring, broad authorization for the use of force towards any target deemed dangerous. The law was written directly in response to 9/11, authorizing attacks only toward Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda affiliates.

To call the Islamic State an Al-Qaeda affiliate would be a stretch at best. In the wake of the beheading of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri said, “[Al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with [the Islamic State] and is not the group responsible for their actions”. The Islamic State has gone far beyond the ruthlessness demonstrated in the past by Al-Qaeda, slaying anyone deemed even the slightest threat to the group’s mission to establish an Islamic caliphate.

While the rapidly growing threat of the Islamic State makes it appealing to interpret the use of force law in a way that would justify an attack, the wording of the law should not be stretched to be able to justify use of force against any group deemed dangerous.

President Obama said himself that “we can’t erase every trace of evil from the world,” so why is military force the standard solution every time a threat emerges?

Clearly, the Islamic State presents a danger that will continue to grow if not addressed, but surely it detracts from the value of written law when a broad use of force law is justification for attacks on a group unrelated to Al-Qaeda.

The President and Congress must find another way to address the threat of the Islamic State, because narrow use of force laws written 13 years ago in response to attacks from an unrelated group are not enough to justify relatively large scale attacks on the Islamic State.