Kerry Outlines 5 Key Positions: What the Administration wants in an ISIL AUMF [Updated]

In his opening statement before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the Administration’s position on  five core issues in drafting an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against ISIL. Mr. Kerry’s statement marks the first time for the Administration to propose such specific provisions for an AUMF.

1. Oppose: Limits on ground combat forces

“On the issue of combat operations: I know that this is hotly debated, with passionate and persuasive arguments on both sides. The President has been clear that his policy is that U.S. military forces will not be deployed to conduct ground combat operations against ISIL. That will be the responsibility of local forces because that is what our local partners and allies want, what is best for preserving our Coalition and, most importantly, what is in the best interest of the United States.

However, while we certainly believe this is the soundest policy, and while the president has been clear he’s open to clarifications on the use of U.S. combat troops to be outlined in an AUMF, that does not mean we should pre-emptively bind the hands of the Commander-in-Chief — or our commanders in the field — in responding to scenarios and contingencies that are impossible to foresee.”

Following his opening statement, Mr. Kerry and the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez entered into a disagreement on whether the Administration’s proposals would create an “open-ended” authorization by failing to include limitations on combat troops as outlined in Sen. Menendez’s proposed draft.

[Update: Mr. Kerry subsequently expressed the Administration’s openness to an “amendment” such that the AUMF would explicitly not authorize any “enduring combat operation.”]

2. Limited to ISIL and associated forces

“[T]he Authorization should also be limited and specific to the threat posed by that group and by forces associated with it.”

3. Oppose: geographic limitations

“Importantly – we do not think an AUMF should include a geographic limitation. We don’t anticipate conducting operations in countries other than Iraq or Syria. But to the extent that ISIL poses a threat to American interests and personnel in other countries, we would not want an AUMF to constrain our ability to use appropriate force against ISIL in those locations if necessary. In our view, it would be a mistake to advertise to ISIL that there are safe havens for them outside of Iraq and Syria.”

4. Support: (Three-year) sunset

“[W]ith respect to duration, we can be sure that this confrontation will not be over quickly. We understand, however, the desire of many to avoid a completely open-ended authorization. I note that Chairman Menendez has suggested a three-year limitation; we support that proposal, subject to provisions for extension that we would be happy to discuss.”

5. Support: A new AUMF fully replacing the 2001 AUMF authority for force against ISIL 

In response to questions by Sen. Bob Corker (who will be the next Chairman of the Committee in the 114th Congress), Mr. Kerry also stated that the Administration would accept that the new AUMF would supersede all authorities provided by the 2001 AUMF to fight ISIL. That position is consistent with a key provision in Sen. Menendez’s draft proposal (section i). Mr. Kerry subsequently referred to this as “a major statement, frankly” on the part of the Administration, in responding to questions from Sen. James Risch. Kerry also stated, in response to Sen. Benjamin Cardin,  that the Administration supports an ISIL AUMF as the “exclusive vehicle of authority” for fighting ISIL.

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On multiple occasions, Mr. Kerry focused on the AUMF proposed by the Chairman Menendez. Mr. Kerry referred to that draft as a “strong proposal” with which the Administration has “a couple of differences”—albeit “important” differences that are “not incidental,” he explained. “We’re pretty close,” Mr. Kerry said in response to Sen. Ron Johnson.

In response to a direct question from Sen. Marco Rubio, Mr. Kerry stated that the Administration supports the Chairman’s proposal with some amendments:

Sen. Rubio: Just for clarity’s purpose, so the administration’s position is that the AUMF they would like to see is the Chairman’s language with some amendment.

Sec. Kerry: With some changes, that’s correct.

[Editor’s Note: See Ryan Goodman’s earlier post, Highlights (and Concerns) for Senator Menendez’s Draft AUMF] 

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.