Are We At ‘War’ With ISIS In Syria?

According to Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, we are at war with ISIS. “We’re at war,” he said to the House Armed Service Committee in Washington. “We are using the might of the finest fighting force the world has ever known. Tens of thousands of U.S. personnel are operating in the broader Middle East region, and more are on the way.” However, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff disagreed – to the wording if not the spirit. “We are technically not at war,” Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford told the same committee. Granted, the armed forces are bombing ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria; but, without a formal declaration of war or even an authorization for use of military force (AUMF), there are limits, many limits, to what those “tens of thousands of U.S. personnel” can be used for.

Are we at war or not?

The rub, though, is that it appears that no one wants an AUMF. Congress doesn’t want to go on record in support of a potential political and military disaster (our track record in Syria has not been great), the president is happy enough not to have formal Syrian intervention attached to his legacy and the general public is more concerned about paying bills than worrying about legal wrangling and political cowardice.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), running for president and wanting to show his foreign policy skill, is preparing to call for an AUMF against ISIS, but it will face stiff opposition in Congress. For congress critters not trying to make a name for themselves, voting for the force authorization carries the same potential risks that voting for the Iraq War held a decade ago.

ISWhy do we need the AUMF, anyway?

The military actions taken in Syria have been authorized under the AUMF against terrorism passed after the September 11th attacks in New York and Washington. There are some problems, though, with allowing that broad definition to be attached to executive power:

  • If the conflict in Syria can be labeled as part of the War on Terror, where is the cut off on what can or cannot be included in the AUMF? By interpreting the statute this broadly, it has led to redefining the ‘forever war’ concept. Succinctly, any military conflict can be waged by linking it to terrorism.
  • There is no actual, or potential, exit strategy. The war in Afghanistan has dragged on for over 14 years. As the troop drawdown continues, insurgency increases. This has already prompted a scaling back of the withdrawal. We still have troops in Afghanistan and, it appears, they will be there for a long time.

An AUMF would spell out what the military can do in Syria, with specific goals and a timetable to accomplish the mission. The failing point of all military operations since the first Gulf War – an Exit Strategy – could give our military a clear and accurate goal to accomplish and then get the hell out of the way.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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