AUMF: Legislative Reaffirmation

Adam Serwer on the AUMF

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, May 19, 2011, 1:08 AM

No sooner had I finished my last post than I came across this elegant little argument from Adam Serwer:

I think Wittes is right that the original AUMF contained no . . . temporal or geographic constraints. What the AUMF did possess was an implied end-state, by authorizing military force against "those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." This didn't exactly define what "victory" would look like, but it did imply that a cessation of hostilities could occur once the targets were neutralized or brought to justice.

The new AUMF has nothing like that, and in that sense, seems "limitless" in a way that the previous one wasn't. At the very least, I think there has to be some kind of conversation about what "victory" looks like here, given the fact that religiously inspired, politically motivated violence has been a fact of life on Earth since Hebrew Zealots were stabbing Roman officials to death in Jerusalem streets.

Serwer here cuts to the real crux of the issue--and while this point is present in both the Times editorial and in Daphne Eviatar's piece, Serwer's presentation of it crystalized for me the following thought: If one sees the lack of a September 11 tether in the new proposal as a conceptual unleashing of the conflict, one should probably oppose McKeon's effort. If, on the other hand, one sees the September 11 focus of the current AUMF as an anachronism in a war that is quickly morphing into something less immediately-related to 9/11, then one should probably support McKeon's language--or something like it.