Annals of the Trump Administration

Annals of the Trump Administration #8:Turning Off the Presidential Policy Guidance Limits for Libya

By Robert Chesney
Monday, November 28, 2016, 6:57 PM

In a post earlier today, I highlighted a variety of recent developments in which the Obama administration has adjusted constraints on using force under color of the AUMF, based in part on the report in the New York Times revealing that the administration has finally added al Shabaab to the list of "associated forces" of al Qaeda coming within the scope of the AUMF. That same report highlighted a further adjustment I should have included in my original post: turning off the presidential policy guidance (PPG) rules in Libya a few months ago, in order to enable the still-not-quite-over air campaign against Islamic State personnel in Surt/Sirte. From the article:

Later in the summer, the administration deemed Surt, Libya, an “area of active hostilities,” after the Libyan prime minister asked for assistance in dislodging Islamic State militants from that city. The move exempted the area from 2013 rules that restrict drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations away from battlefield zones, which President Obama had announced in a major speech that year that sought to turn a page in the long-running war against Al Qaeda.

As of last week, the Pentagon had carried out 420 airstrikes against militants in Surt since August.

The significance of the story is that it illustrates the malleability of the policy constraints embodied in the PPG. Specifically, it shows that, when useful, it is a simple matter to identify a particular setting as having shifted from one that is not an area of active hostilities from the U.S. perspective to one that is. This is not actually surprising given that the PPG is, in the final analysis, nothing more than a statement of the current president's policy preferences. Still, it's a blunt illustration that underscores the larger point that there is nothing about the PPG that is locked-down in terms of binding the next administration.