“Tell Me How This Ends”

“Tell me how this ends”

This is what former CENTCOM Commander and CIA Director David Petraeus had posited to journalist Rick Atkinson back in early 2003 when he was still a commanding officer of the 101st Airborne Division and in preparation to invade Iraq. While General Petraeus had made this comment with respect to the Iraq war, he might as well have been talking about America’s other war: the global war on terror. This war began on September 14, 2001 when Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) legislation which was signed into law by President Bush only four days later.

Now, the Iraq War is over. The war in Afghanistan will be no more at the end of 2014 but the AUMF still lives on. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have used the authorities of the AUMF to legally justify a variety of counterterrorism measures that most likely Members of Congress did not envision when they initially voted for the AUMF.

On October 5, 2013 elite Navy commandos executed a daring raid in southern Somalia that targeted a high ranking commander of the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab. During the same time but 2500 miles away in Libya, Delta Force operators executed a textbook snatch-and-grab mission that nabbed al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Anas Al Libi. And this past Saturday a drone strike in Yemen killed more than a dozen militants who were members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist group. These operations along with many more similar ones that were carried out in the last 13 years have ultimately derived their legal authorities from the AUMF.

Congress may finally be taking notice. Last year, the Senate Armed Services Committee convened a hearing that specifically addressed some of the concerns that Members have about the legal ambiguities of the AUMF. Also last year, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced a bill that would repeal AUMF effective December 31, 2014. The bill, however, has languished in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs ever since it was referred there in June 2013. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who casted the lone vote against the 2001 AUMF legislation, had introduced a repeal bill back in 2011 but it had not fared any better.

Recent media reporting indicates that Rep. Schiff is ready to renew his efforts to advance legislation that would finally sunset the provisions of the 2001 AUMF. But Congress is very much divided on what is the best way to deal with the AUMF. While some favor outright repeal, other Members are hesitant to revoke the legal authorities that have allowed the President to pursue relentlessly Al Qaeda elements and other associated terrorist forces beyond the Afghan battlefield.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who has been quite vocal in his desire to become the next Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is extremely critical of the repeal talk. He believes that repeal would significantly downgrade the capabilities of the targeted killing program. At times, he has even implied that the President is being timid and not fully embracing the counterterrorism authorities of the AUMF.

President Obama promised to engage with Congress on the issue of AUMF in order to “refine and ultimately repeal” the law. But that was a year ago and so far the Administration has not put any serious proposals on the table. If nothing else various testimonies on Capitol Hill by high ranking Department of Defense officials have only indicated that the Administration is quite content with the current legislative authorities.

If Congress does not engage more forcefully and with one voice on this issue then the answer to “Tell Me How This Ends” may simply be no end in sight.

Katina Slavkova is a Fellow and Director of the Certificate Program at the Government Affairs Institute