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Obama administration seeks wider war powers

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Reprinted from WSWS

From flickr.com/photos/7513136@N05/3488968132/: John Kerry
John Kerry
(image by Center for American Progress Action Fund)
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The three top US national security officials appeared together before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday to press the case for a broadly worded resolution authorizing the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made brief statements and answered questions from Republican and Democratic senators during a three-hour hearing.

The session focused on a proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to approve the military operations launched by President Obama last August in Iraq and the following month in Syria. More than 3,000 US troops have been deployed to the region to train Iraqi Army and Syrian "rebel" forces, and US warplanes have killed thousands in a nonstop bombing campaign against ISIS targets in the two countries.

The Obama administration submitted a proposed three-page text for the AUMF only last month, more than six months after the air strikes and troop deployment began. The delay is unprecedented and underscores the increasingly open contempt of the military-intelligence apparatus for the formal trappings of democratic governance, including the constitutional prerogative of the legislature to declare war.

The White House initially refused to draft language for a resolution to approve the war against ISIS, claiming Obama had ample authority under two earlier resolutions: the AUMF of 2001, which was the basis of the war in Afghanistan and the subsequent "war on terror," and the AUMF adopted in October 2002, which gave approval for the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq in March of 2003.

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This claim is entirely specious. The 2001 AUMF gave the president authority to wage war against those who carried out the 9/11 attacks or harbored the perpetrators. ISIS did not even exist until a decade later, and it is actually at war with the Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front. Even more cynical is the claim that the 2002 AUMF for war against Iraq provides a legal basis for a war in which Iraq serves as a puppet and ally of Washington.

The new AUMF drafted by the White House would repeal the 2002 Iraq war resolution but leave the 2001 war resolution unaltered. At Wednesday's hearing, Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Carter reiterated the administration's contention that the war against ISIS is legal under the 2001 AUMF and that a new resolution is desirable but not essential.

In his opening statement, which was twice interrupted by antiwar protesters who were ejected from the hearing by Capitol Hill police, Kerry asserted, "The president already has statutory authority to act against ISIL, but a clear and formal expression of this Congress's backing at this moment in time would dispel doubt that might exist anywhere that Americans are united in this effort."

The main purpose of the resolution, he said, was to make a political demonstration of bipartisan unity behind the US war plan. "Your unity would also send an unmistakable message to the leaders [of ISIS]," he told the committee. "They have to understand they cannot divide us...and they have no hope of defeating us."

The new resolution would also reassure US allies in the bombing campaign in Syria, including nearly all the repressive monarchies and sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf, he said, but as far as US military actions went, it would have a purely symbolic significance. Asked directly about this later in the hearing, General Dempsey affirmed that the new AUMF would not change anything in the operations being conducted by US forces in Iraq and Syria.

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These declarations, which went largely unchallenged by the Senate panel, gave the entire hearing the character of a farce. In effect, the representatives of the executive branch told the legislature that their concerns and questions, let alone the sentiments of the American people, were irrelevant. Congress could choose to rubber-stamp the new US war in Iraq and Syria or refuse to do so, but congressional action would have no effect on the actual course of events.

Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, admitted before the hearing, "I think we all know, at present, whether we pass an AUMF or don't pass an AUMF has zero effect on what is happening on the ground, none, zero."

This marks a further stage in the decomposition of what passes for democracy in the United States. Even the Bush administration felt compelled to obtain congressional authorization for war, albeit on the basis of lies about Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" and ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda (who were actually bitter enemies).

Under Obama, the national security apparatus has gone a step further, waging war without a shred of constitutional or legal legitimacy, counting on the acquiescence or active support of both capitalist parties in Congress, as well as the corporate-controlled media.

Much of Wednesday's hearing was taken up with wrangling between Republican senators opposing any limits on the war -- for example, the three-year time limit stipulated in the administration's draft AUMF, after which Congress would have to reauthorize the war -- and Democrats expressing reservations about a new US ground war in the Middle East.

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Patrick Martin writes for the World Socialist Website (wsws.org), a forum for socialist ideas & analysis & published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI).

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