Gen. Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might “separate the country from chaos,” but they’re very committed to ensuring other countries remain in an endless state of chaos.
On Monday, Tillerson and Mattis testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and explained their opposition to rewriting the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), a breathtakingly broad law that was used to launch the neverending war on terror in 2001.
“The 2001 AUMF provides statutory authority for ongoing U.S. military operations against al-Qaeda; the Taliban; and associated forces, including against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS,” Tillerson told the committee, per Reuters.
Congress has debated the vast scope of the 16-year-old law for years. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the panel, succinctly summarized the argument for limiting its powers when he said the articles “have now become mere authorities of convenience for presidents to conduct military activities anywhere in the world.”
Additionally, Cardin continued, “there needs to be more public discussion and light on these activities because I do not think the American people want the United States conducting a global, endless shadow war under the radar, covert and beyond scrutiny.”
Even if the 2001 AUMF were rewritten, as Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Tim Kaine of Virginia have proposed, the Trump administration would prefer it remain open-ended. According to The New York Times, both Kelly and Mattis argued against rewriting the law with geographic limitations or time constraints.
Their rationale for opposing a new, limited AUMF? If geographic and time constraints were imposed, the military’s strategies might suddenly become far too predictable. “People run on hope,” Mattis claimed. “And if the enemy hopes we are going to quit on a certain day, and if they know we won’t deal with them if they step over a certain border, then the enemy’s going to do exactly that.”
Flake and Kaine’s bill, which they re-introduced in May, would repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMF. A newer version of the AUMF would be rewritten to specifically target ISIS, the Taliban, and al Qeada. After five years, that bill would expire, prompting congressional approval for another version of the AUMF.