Leon Panetta: Administration’s Reliance on 2001 AUMF to Fight ISIL is Flawed

Leon Panetta’s book, “Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace,” was released on Tuesday. Panetta’s perspectives benefit from a career of service in both political branches. He was President Obama’s CIA Director and Secretary of Defense. He was President Clinton’s Chief of Staff. And he served for over fifteen years in the House of Representatives. Panetta’s views on President Obama’s leadership and judgment will surely occupy most of the media attention, and his more particular insight into the the utility of drones and the CIA’s role in the program may receive considerable attention as well.

One of the most significant statements is not in Panetta’s book, but in his interview for the book with the New York Times’ Peter Baker. On the question whether Congress’ 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) applies to ISIL, Panetta criticizes President Obama’s reliance on the AUMF, and suggests the onus was on Obama to seek Congress’ approval for military operations against ISIL.

“But he criticized the president for not going to Congress to seek approval for attacks on the Islamic State and for ruling out in advance the deployment of American ground troops. ‘I don’t think it’s good enough now to fall back on what was provided soon after 9/11,’ Mr. Panetta said, referring to the 2001 congressional vote authorizing force against Al Qaeda and affiliates.”

As the New York Times‘ Peter Baker wrote, Panetta’s book is “not as scathing as the one by Mr. Panetta’s predecessor,Robert M. Gates“–but it may be a close second. For Just Security‘s coverage of Gates’ book, see here, here, here and here. 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.