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Mattis’ ‘Support’ For A New AUMF Won’t Slow Down America’s Forever Wars
Last March, in his first public testimony after being confirmed as secretary of defense, retired Marine general James Mattis delivered a strong message to lawmakers tasked with overseeing the Pentagon’s budget: The future of America’s forever wars rests in your hands.
"I would take no issue with the Congress stepping forward with an AUMF,” Mattis told the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on March 22, urging lawmakers to reassert its constitutional role as the federal government’s chief war-making authority with a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force for the multinational campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria — a war that has exposed problems with the post-9/11 AUMFs passed in 2001 and 2002 that has served as a blank check for the Global War on Terror for 16 years.
“I think it'd be a statement of the American people's resolve," Mattis added. "I thought the same thing for the last several years, I might add, and have not understood why the Congress hasn't come forward with this, at least to debate."
Plenty of war critics agreed with him then — and still do, as concerns over the U.S. military’s footprint have grown in the aftermath of the Oct. 4 Niger ambush that left four Army Special Forces personnel dead. But six months later, Mattis says he doesn’t need a new AUMF — and while he’d still welcome one not to rein in America’s military engagements, but to kick them into overdrive with a full congressional blessing.
Testifying alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Oct. 30, Mattis told lawmakers that the 9/11-era congressional war authorizations — which have outlasted many of the politicians who voted for them — “provide safe, sufficient legal authority” to cover neverending campaigns against the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS, as well as any “associated forces” the president deems a threat — including fighters in the 19 countries where the U.S. military currently runs counterterrorism operations under the 2001 AUMF.
“Though a statement of continued Congressional support would be welcome,” Mattis said, “a new AUMF is not legally required to address the continuing threat posed by Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.”
In one sense, Mattis has stayed consistent since March: There’s no legal need for an AUMF, but it would be pretty sweet if we had it.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, right, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, testify before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on "The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.Photo via Associated Press
A new “congressional expression of unity, whether or not an AUMF, would present a strong statement to the world of America’s determination... as Sen. Kaine has stated, ‘an important message of resolve to the American public and our troops that we stand behind them in their mission,’” the secretary added, referring to a new draft AUMF introduced in March by Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, both Foreign Relations Committee members who were present for Mattis’ testimony.
Kaine told Task & Purpose he was “encouraged” by Mattis’ apparent support for congressional war action. “I’m in complete agreement with him that it would be a ‘statement to the world of America’s determination’ as well as a strong sign of resolve to the American public and support for our troops,” Kaine said.
But don’t mistake the collegiality for a consensus. The defense secretary has conditions for a new war authorization, and they’re doozies.
Mattis and Tillerson argued to the senators Oct. 30 that no AUMF considered by Congress should put geographical or time limits on military counterterrorism operations — a key feature of Kaine and Flake’s proposed AUMF. “We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict,” Mattis said, adding the U.S. can’t rule out creeping conflicts across new borders: “The enemy does not limit itself based on geographic boundaries [and] the collapse of the ISIS caliphate means it will attempt to burrow into new countries and find new safe havens.”
Mattis also drew a further line in the sand with Congress. After Tillerson suggested in his Senate testimony that the Trump administration would be open to a repeal of the existing AUMF if it came with a new war authorization, Mattis said he didn’t even want to entertain the idea of a repeal without a (broader) replacement.
“Legislation that would prematurely end the AUMF would be inconsistent with a conditions-based approach and embolden enemies who want to outlast us,” Mattis told lawmakers. “There must be nothing that restricts or delays our ability to respond rapidly to terrorist threats to the U.S.”
Current U.S. military areas of operations authorized under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed after the September 11th terror attacksPhoto via Defense Intelligence Agency
The reason Mattis gave for such a blank check is the same reason all presidents, Republican or Democratic, have given since the 9/11 attacks. “These are not traditional threats,” he said. “We must be prepared to swiftly engaged this global enemy with our allies and partners."
Naturally, lawmakers are less than happy with Mattis’ “conditional approval” for a war authorization, or his rationale for it. “It’s not surprising that the administration wants to have less restrictions—most administrations do regardless of party—but it’s our Constitutional duty as a co-equal branch of government to place parameters on the use of military force,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois and retired Army lieutenant colonel, told Task & Purpose. “We cannot spend another 16 years engaged in a seemingly endless war conducting military operations in parts of the world that the American public is not aware of and Congress has not approved.”
A firm rejection of geographical or time restraints makes any new U.S. war legislation essentially moot. Hence Mattis’ continued emphasis on the AUMF not as part of the American system of checks and balances, but as a feel-good “message of resolve”: a phony “support the troops” consensus among lawmakers and a status quo that, coupled with political leaders’ increasing deference to Pentagon chiefs, may complicate future efforts by lawmakers to rein in military ops. Mattis may support congressional deliberations over a new AUMF, but based on his and Tillerson’s testimony, any war legislation that meets their conditions is just the Forever War by another name.
13 Marines at Camp Pendleton charged with crimes related to smuggling of undocumented immigrants from Mexico
Thirteen Marines have been formally charged for their alleged roles in a human smuggling ring, according to a press release from 1st Marine Division released on Friday.
The Marines face military court proceedings on various charges, from "alleged transporting and/or conspiring to transport undocumented immigrants" to larceny, perjury, distribution of drugs, and failure to obey an order. "They remain innocent until proven guilty," said spokeswoman Maj. Kendra Motz.
The recruiting commercials for the Army Reserve proclaim "one weekend each month," but the real-life Army Reserve might as well say "hold my beer."
That's because the weekend "recruiting hook" — as it's called in a leaked document compiled by Army personnel for the new chief of staff — reveal that it's, well, kinda bullshit.
When they're not activated or deployed, most reservists and guardsmen spend one weekend a month on duty and two weeks a year training, according to the Army recruiting website. But that claim doesn't seem to square with reality.
"The Army Reserve is cashing in on uncompensated sacrifices of its Soldiers on a scale that must be in the tens of millions of dollars, and that is a violation of trust, stewardship, and the Army Values," one Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, who also complained that his battalion commander "demanded" that he be available at all times, told members of an Army Transition Team earlier this year.
According to an internal Army document, soldiers feel that the service's overwhelming focus on readiness is wearing down the force, and leading some unit leaders to fudge the truth on their unit's readiness.
"Soldiers in all three Army Components assess themselves and their unit as less ready to perform their wartime mission, despite an increased focus on readiness," reads the document, which was put together by the Army Transition Team for new Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and obtained by Task & Purpose. "The drive to attain the highest levels of readiness has led some unit leaders to inaccurately report readiness."
Lt. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, who served as the director of the transition team, said in the document's opening that though the surveys conducted are not scientific, the feedback "is honest and emblematic of the force as a whole taken from seven installations and over 400 respondents."
Those surveyed were asked to weigh in on four questions — one of which being what the Army isn't doing right. One of the themes that emerged from the answers is that "[r]eadiness demands are breaking the force."
The Army thinks China will surpass Russia by 2028. Here is how the service is planning to take them on.
If you've paid even the slightest bit of attention in the last few years, you know that the Pentagon has been zeroing in on the threat that China and Russia pose, and the future battles it anticipates.
The Army has followed suit, pushing to modernize its force to be ready for whatever comes its way. As part of its modernization, the Army adopted the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept, which serves as the Army's main war-fighting doctrine and lays the groundwork for how the force will fight near-peer threats like Russia and China across land, air, sea, cyber, and space.
But in an internal document obtained by Task & Purpose, the Army Transition Team for the new Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, argues that China poses a more immediate threat than Russia, so the Army needs make the Asia-Pacific region its priority while deploying "minimal current conventional forces" in Europe to deter Russia.
In leaked documents, Army family reports waiting weeks to have gas line and roof leaks fixed in on-base housing
As the saying goes, you recruit the soldier, but you retain the family.
And according to internal documents obtained by Task & Purpose, the Army still has substantial work to do in addressing families' concerns.