In the absence of greater agitation, limitation and oversight, the national security establishment is likely to get worse, not better, in terms of its accountability to democratic control and the rule of law.
On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is considering an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS. The committee will likely consider AUMF provisions barring the use of US ground troops for combat with narrow exceptions, limiting the war to Iraq and Syria, and limiting targets to ISIS and associated groups.
The administration has, unfortunately, stated opposition to these restrictions, even though these restrictions wouldn’t prevent them from doing anything that they are doing, nor anything that they claim they are planning to do. Of course, the fact that the administration is objecting to these restrictions should make us doubt the strength of their assurances not to escalate the war and strengthen our resolve to enact their commitments not to escalate the war into law.
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On Wednesday, outgoing Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke on the Senate floor on the publication of the Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture and the CIA’s lying to Congress and the American people about the CIA’s use of torture.
A key point in Sen. Udall’s speech was the obstruction that the Senate Intelligence Committee has faced from the Obama Administration in getting its report out:
The process of compiling, drafting, redacting and now releasing this report has been much harder than it needed to be . . .
One would think this administration is leading the effort to right the wrongs of the past and ensure the American people learn the truth about the CIA’s torture program. Not so. In fact it’s been nearly a six-year struggle, in a Democratic administration no less, to get this study out. Why has it been so hard for this document to finally see the light of day? Why have we had to fight tooth and nail every step of the way? The answer is simple. Because the study says things that former and current CIA and other government officials don’t want the American public to know . . .
Those who criticize the committee study for overly focusing on the past should understand that its findings directly relate to how the CIA operates today.
In two years we will either have a new Democratic president or a new Republican president. If a Democrat – unless MoveOn is successful in its effort to draft Elizabeth Warren – that Democrat will almost surely be Hillary Clinton, who is running to Obama’s “right” on “national security.” If a Republican, unless that Republican is Rand Paul, it will almost surely be a Republican well to Obama’s “right” on “national security.”
Unfortunately, “to the right of Obama” in the context of “national security” has basically meant “supporting unchecked power for the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon.” As bad as things have been, most of the politically plausible roads leading to 2016 right now are much worse, in terms of checking the power of the intelligence agencies and the Pentagon.
Today’s national security establishment is in many ways the same national security establishment that produced CIA torture and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, under false pretenses. In the absence of greater agitation, limitation and oversight, the national security establishment is likely to get worse, not better, in terms of its accountability to democratic control and the rule of law.
This is why it is crucial that the four-month-old war against ISIS be subject to an authorization for the use of military force [AUMF] that limits the president’s authority to unilaterally escalate by using ground troops for combat, expanding the war geographically or expanding the list of targets. The track record shows that a blank check for war is an invitation to abuse.
All Americans – but especially Democrats – who oppose a blank check for war should be outraged but not surprised by the administration’s demand for an ISIS AUMF that does not bar the use of US ground troops for offensive combat, does not have geographic limits and does not limit targets to ISIS and associated groups. All Americans – but especially Democrats – should support Senator Kaine and other senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who insist that an AUMF be limited to what the US is now doing and plans to do, and not give a blank check for whatever this president or a future president might like to do at some point in the future.