Sens. Kaine, Flake seek vote to authorize war on Islamic State

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., head to a closed briefing. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — For years, lawmakers have devoutly professed their desire to see the so-called Islamic State defeated and destroyed, while hiding from a vote to explicitly authorize military action to bring about that goal. On Thursday, Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Tim Kaine, D.-Va., unveiled legislation that would formally give the congressional green light to the nearly three-year-old campaign.

The proposal would repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed after the 9/11 attacks, which effectively permitted the invasion of Afghanistan and global efforts to stamp out al-Qaida. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama cited that legislation as the legal justification for the global war on terrorism.

Flake and Kaine’s measure, which would also repeal the 2002 AUMF allowing Bush to use force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, would explicitly authorize making war on ISIS, al-Qaida and the Taliban, as well as “associated forces,” to be defined by the administration and Congress. The legislation would expire after five years.

“Congressional authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban will make clear to our allies and our adversaries that we are united in our resolve,” said Flake said in a statement. “It is past time for Congress to voice its support for the war against ISIS.”

Kaine charged that Congress — the branch of government empowered to declare war — had “stood silent” while Bush and Obama expanded military operations.

“We owe it to the American public to define the scope of the U.S. mission against terrorist organizations, including ISIS, and we owe it to our troops to show we’re behind them in their mission,” said Kaine, the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee in 2016. “It is time for this Congress to fulfill its duty by putting its stamp on the current fight.”

Smoke rises from an airstrike during a battle between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq. (Photo: Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters)

Unlike the AUMF Obama sent Congress in early 2015, Flake and Kaine’s proposal does not place even vague limits on what kind of force could be used. That could complicate its chances of securing Democratic support.

It is also unclear how the White House will respond. Officials there have said that the undeclared escalating war President Trump inherited is legal under existing authorities like the 2001 AUMF. But the president himself used to argue that Congress needed to vote.

The U.S.-led bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria began on Aug. 8, 2014. Obama asked Americans for support in a Sept. 10, 2014, televised address. Since then, the conflict has widened to Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.

As of May 24, 2017, the anti-ISIS coalition has carried out a total of 21,663 strikes in Iraq and Syria against the terror group. As of March 31, 2017, the total cost has run to $12.5 billion, and the average daily cost is $13 million for 967 days of operations, according to the Defense Department.

The United States has declared war formally against 11 nations in just five wars in its history: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. Technically, America’s longest war — the Afghanistan operation launched after Sept. 11 — isn’t a declared war. Neither were Korea, Vietnam, Panama nor Iraq.

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