Kerry Outlines Administration Vision of an AUMF

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 4:20 PM

From Secretary of State John Kerry's prepared testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today:

Toward that end, we ask you now to work closely with us on a bipartisan basis to develop language that provides a clear signal of support for our ongoing military operations against ISIL. Our position on the text is pretty straightforward – the Authorization – or AUMF – should give the President the clear mandate and flexibility he needs to successfully prosecute the armed conflict against ISIL and affiliated forces; but the Authorization should also be limited and specific to the threat posed by that group and by forces associated with it.

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What do we envision? Importantly – we do not think an AUMF should include a geographic limitation. We don’t anticipate conducting operations in countries other than Iraq or Syria. But to the extent that ISIL poses a threat to American interests and personnel in other countries, we would not want an AUMF to constrain our ability to use appropriate force against ISIL in those locations if necessary. In our view, it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside of Iraq and Syria.

On the issue of combat operations: I know that this is hotly debated, with passionate and persuasive arguments on both sides. The President has been clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL. That will be the responsibility of local forces because that is what our local partners and allies want, what is best for preserving our Coalition and, most importantly, what is in the best interest of the United States.

However, while we certainly believe this is the soundest policy, and while the president has been clear he's open to clarifications on the use of U.S. combat troops to be outlined in an AUMF, that does not mean we should pre-emptively bind the hands of the Commander-in-Chief — or our commanders in the field — in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.

Finally, with respect to duration, we can be sure that this confrontation will not be over quickly. We understand, however, the desire of many to avoid a completely open-ended authorization. I note that Chairman Menendez has suggested a three-year limitation; we support that proposal, subject to provisions for extension that we would be happy to discuss.

To sum up, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I ask for your help and support in approving – on a bipartisan basis – an Authorization for Use of Military Force in connection with our campaign and that of our many partners to defeat a terrible and dangerous enemy.