Mattis And Tillerson Reject Limits On America’s Forever Wars

Analysis
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. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Photo via DoD

Is there an end in sight for the Global War on Terror? Don’t count on it.


Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 30, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faced a barrage of questions from lawmakers over the need for a new authorization for the use of military force to replace 2001 AUMF that, passed amid the fear and panic that gripped the nation in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, has justified U.S. Department of Defense counterterrorism missions around the globe ever since. And after the deaths of four Army Special Forces personnel during an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger, lawmakers are reconsidering the Pentagon’s expanding footprint in Africa and abroad with renewed political vigor.

The White House isn’t that interested: Confirming September reports out of the National Security Council, Tillerson told lawmakers today that the White House is not currently seeking a new AUMF to iron out the legal questions surrounding the ever-evolving Global War on Terror.

“The United States has the legal authority to prosecute campaigns against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and associated forces, including ISIS,” Tillerson said. “The 2001 AUMF remains a cornerstone for ongoing U.S. military operations and continues to provide legal authority relied upon to defeat this threat.”

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

Should Congress decide to exercise its constitutional war-making (and -stopping) authority, though, Mattis and Tillerson have a few requests: first, that there be no gap between the repeal of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs and the enactment of a new authorization to avoid “operational paralysis” (Mattis objected to even repealing the 2001 and 2002 authorizations); and more importantly, that there be “no time or geographical constraints” on when and where U.S. military assets are deployed in its game of whack-a-mole against terror groups.

Even operational limits — like, say, restricting engagements to airstrikes and bombing sorties, rather than deploying combat troops — would end up hindering long-term objectives “given the way the enemy morphs,” Tillerson said.

“Legislation that would prematurely end the AUMF would be inconsistent with a conditions-based approach and embolden enemies who want to outlast us,” Mattis said, citing the Afghan war strategy Trump laid out during an Aug. 21 speech. “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. There must be nothing that restricts or delays our ability to respond rapidly to terrorist threats to the U.S.”

Related: Thousands Of Troops Are Deployed To Combat Zones, But We Haven’t Declared War In Decades »

Trump’s strategy “in South Asia is conditions-based because war is unpredictable. We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict,” Mattis added. “These are not traditional threats. We must be prepared to swiftly engaged this global enemy with our allies and partners.”

Translation: No limits, no change.

Mattis doubled down on the the Obama administration’s 2014 claim that the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs provided all the legal basis they needed to initiate Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS as an “associated” offshoot of Al Qaeda — despite the fact that ISIS didn’t even exist when the legislation was drafted more than 15 years ago. After the 2011 military drawdown in Iraq and the outbreak of civil war in Syria, Al Qaeda “quickly rebranded as ISIS,” said Mattis, launching attacks from “the Sahel to Southeast Asia” — thinly veiled references to evolving ISIS beachheads in the Lake Chad Basin region and the Philippines. (Mattis is, strictly speaking, wrong here: ISIS is not a rebranded Al Qaeda, and in fact the groups have been at each other’s throats. But he’s not wrong that they’re both dead-end anti-American groups.)

Mattis even mentioned the ISIS-inspired attacks on San Bernadino and Orlando as reminders of the group’s domestic dangers. “A statement of congressional support would be welcome,” Mattis said, “but it is not legally required.”

Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 274 prepare to perform casualty evacuation drills during a training operation at Marine Corps Auxiliary Landing Field Bogue, North Carolina, March 9, 2017.Photo by DoD

Despite the month-long political imbroglio triggered by the Niger ambush, it appears the administration won’t face much pushback in Congress — and the White House knows it. Tillerson and Mattis’ conditions on a new AUMF rule out the March bill proposed bill by Sens. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, and Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia.

In his opening remarks, committee chairman and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker stated that the good ol’ 2001 AUMF, despite its flaws, “will remain necessary for the foreseeable future to prevent attacks on America and our allies,” despite the need for lawmakers “to reassert Congress’s constitutional role” as, you know, the governmental body that actually makes war.

“Congress is united in strong support of the fight against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and other terrorist groups,” Corker said. “Congress has regularly been notified of deployments around the world, including the building in Niger” — hear that, Lindsey Graham? — “and responded accordingly by funding the Department of Defense’s counterterrorism missions.” Mattis concurred later in his testimony, reminding lawmakers that the “power of the purse” — Congress’s constitutional authority over actually funding the U.S. armed forces — “is firmly vested in your hands.”

Related: Lawmakers Introduce New AUMF To Redefine Scope Of Global War On Terror »

But if there was ever a time to throw the brakes on America’s forever wars, it may be now. The post-Niger moment of clarity facing both lawmakers and the American public regarding the true scope of the Global War on Terror, along with wavering public support for Trump as commander-in-chief, give congressional watchdogs an opening.

“We ought to aspire to be more than just part of a feedback loop. Article 1 authority is more than that,” said Flake, who announced last week that he would retire from the Senate rather than stand for reelection. “We have to make sure that our adversaries and our allies and most importantly our troops know we speak with one voice.”

WATCH NEXT:

Maj. Jason Michael Musgrove (Lincoln County Sheriff's Office)

A major serving at U.S. Army Cyber Command has been charged with distributing child pornography, according to the Justice Department.

Maj. Jason Michael Musgrove, who is based at Fort Gordon, Georgia, has been remanded to the U.S. Marshals service, a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Georgia says.

Read More Show Less
Sailors from USS George Washington (CVN 73) wear-test the I-Boot 5 at Naval Station Norfolk. (U.S. Navy photo by Courtney Williams)

Navy senior leaders could decide whether or not to approve the new I-Boot 5 early in 2020, said Rob Carroll, director of the uniform matters office at the Chief of Naval Personnel's office.

"The I-Boot 5 is currently wrapping up its actual wear test, its evaluation," Carroll told Task & Purpose on Monday. "We're hoping that within the first quarter of calendar year 2020 that we'll be able to present leadership with the information that they need to make an informed decision."

Read More Show Less
Senator Jim Inhofe speaks with local reporters at a press conference held at the 138th Fighter Wing August 2, 2018. (U.S. National Guard/Staff Sgt. Rebecca R. Imwalle)

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn leveled harsh criticism last week at the contractor accused of negligence and fraudulent activity while operating private housing at Tinker Air Force Base and other military installations.

Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, referred to Balfour Beatty Communities as "notorious." Horn, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told a company executive she was "incredibly disappointed you have failed to live up to your responsibility for taking care of the people that are living in these houses."

Read More Show Less
U.S. Senator Rick Scott speaks during a press conference at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, April 29, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

The Saudi national who killed three students on a U.S. Naval Air station in Pensacola was in the United States on a training exchange program.

On Sunday, Sen. Rick Scott said the United States should suspend that program, which brings foreign nationals to America for military training, pending a "full review."

Read More Show Less
Tech. Sgt. Ryan Cooper, 151st Security Forces Squadron, leads a team of security forces members as they clear a building during a simulated active shooter event October 15, 2019 at Roland R. Wright Air National Guard Base, Utah. (U.S. Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. John Winn)

Security measures at U.S. military bases will be increased in the wake of the deadly shootings at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.

In a message posted to Twitter, U.S. Northern Command, known as Northcom, said it has directed its installations to "immediately assess force protection measures and implement increased random security measures for their facilities."

Read More Show Less