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Local congressman urges decision on authorizing use of military force

Disagreement is brewing among elected officials over whether a bill empowering President Barack Obama to wage war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should limit the scope of the military’s involvement in the conflict, arousing lingering unease over the length of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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February 11, 2015

Disagreement is brewing among elected officials over whether a bill empowering President Barack Obama to wage war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should limit the scope of the military’s involvement in the conflict, arousing lingering unease over the length of recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

On one side is local congressman, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who introduced legislation Jan. 28 that would authorize the Obama administration to continue its military campaign against ISIL for three years. Schiff’s bill, which bars the use of ground troops, arrives just as House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner has promised a spring vote on a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Boehner has said he would prefer one that provides the president with more sweeping powers, though he believes it is up to the chief executive to propose draft language.

Either way, Schiff said it’s time for Congress to take on the issue.

“More than five months after strikes began against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, Congress has yet to debate and take a vote on an authorization to wage war, in clear abdication of our constitutional duties,” Schiff said in a Jan. 28 statement.

The Obama administration thus far has used the 2001 AUMF targeting terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks to justify its air campaign against ISIL, though it said in a September 2014 statement provided to The New York Times that it believes the 2002 authorization of the Iraq War would be a sufficient legal alternative. Schiff and others on both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration for what they feel are overly broad readings of the post-Sept. 11 authorizations. 

“Using either of these authorizations relies on expansionist interpretations,” Schiff, who is Jewish, told the Journal in a phone interview. 

Though the 2001 authorization was intended to focus on terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, it has proved malleable — having been used by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to justify military actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Schiff’s bill would only authorize force “confined to the territory of the Republic of Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic.” 

In addition to limiting the use of force to a distinct geographic region and to a hard three-year period, Schiff’s bill would immediately repeal the 2002 Iraq War authorization and would sunset the 2001 authorization on the same three-year time frame. 

Secretary of State John Kerry recently said the Obama administration favors new language that does not restrict the time frame or the geographic area of the operation, a prospect that reportedly worries Democrats on the Hill who regret passing the 2001 authorization using such open-ended terms. 

Schiff, whose district extends from Hollywood to Pasadena and north to Tujunga, cautioned that Kerry’s approach will likely face bipartisan opposition. 

“I think there is a broad consensus on both sides of the aisle that we not have a new authorization that goes on indefinitely,” he said. 

“Three years, I think, is a responsible period of time,” he continued. “It is almost the length of World War II, and it doesn’t preclude a subsequent president from coming back to Congress and seeking out an extension.”

The three-year time frame is, in fact, an updated version of an 18-month authorization Schiff proposed in similar legislation last fall, but which failed to make it to the House floor. He also previously introduced two amendments to existing defense bills to sunset the 2001 authorization, both of which received bipartisan support but ultimately failed to pass by narrow margins.

“A lot of members of Congress, I think, are reluctant to stick their neck out one way or the other. I think this is the reason that we are almost six months into this conflict and we still haven’t had a vote or a debate on the topic,” he said.

Though Schiff has yet to receive public support from other members of Congress for his latest proposal, he said he is seeking co-sponsors. Meanwhile, the White House is expected to introduce a broader draft war authorization in the coming weeks. 

“I hope we will take up this authorization or another soon,” Schiff said.

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