Will President Obama Go Where He Promised He Wouldn't?

By Benjamin Wittes
Wednesday, February 11, 2015, 8:16 AM

Over at Just Security, Steve Vladeck and a group of scholars have posted a letter to President Obama asking him to include in his AUMF proposal not merely a sunset for the new ISIS AUMF but one for the underlying 2001 AUMF too. “We think it is . . . vitally important that any statute authorizing force against ISIL include not just its own sunset but also one for the 2001 AUMF---in order to ensure that Congress revisits and reevaluates both authorities on the far side of the next elections.” The scholars add, “An ISIL-specific statute that does not sunset the 2001 AUMF would simply expand the President’s already broad statutory authorities, while doing nothing to ensure public deliberation and congressional accountability respecting significant new military operations.”

I agree with Vladeck and his cosignatories that it is worth linking a new ISIS AUMF to reform of the prior AUMF. Indeed, in the proposal Jack and Bobby and Matt and I advanced a few months back for a new AUMF, we designed the new authorization so as to supersede entirely the existing one. That said, I feel pretty confident that sunsetting the 2001 AUMF will not be part of the President’s proposal today, nor will it be part of any bill that ultimately passes the Congress and that the president signs. Which is to say that the result will, in fact, be to “simply expand the President’s already broad statutory authorities.”

Assuming Obama's proposal does not include such a sunset, it will be a remarkable change for a president who said, and not even that long ago, “I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises.  That’s what our democracy demands” (emphasis added).

Today, President Obama is likely to advance a proposal to do exactly what he said he wouldn’t do.

One of the odd things about this administration is the way its own aggrandizements of presidential power and retreats from its stated commitments never seem to temper the piety of its insistence that the Obama administration is composed of the good guys, the ones who care about restraint on presidential authority.