Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, Congressman Adam Smith, provided the following statement for today’s hearing on the Authorization for the Use Military Force against ISIL:

I would like to thank our witnesses for appearing here today.  We very much appreciate General Jack Keane, Robert Chesney, and Benjamin Wittes for appearing here today to help us think through the President’s recent request for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIL.

The fight against ISIL and the President’s request for an AUMF present a variety of questions about strategy, legal authorities, and the interactions between strategy and authority.  Let me say upfront, that I believe Congress should fulfill its constitutional role and authorize the President to take military action against ISIL.  We have waited far too long to begin this debate, and I am pleased that the Administration has sent draft text to Congress to get things underway.  Let me also say that, unfortunately, I am skeptical that Congress will find the will to overcome our internal divisions, both between parties and internal to them, to authorize this action. 

I believe that, in general, we have elements in place of a reasonable strategy to push back on many of these groups.  While not perfect, building the capacity and capability of partner governments in the region, providing enabling capabilities for others who want to help, and taking limited direct action while avoiding becoming embroiled in a large scale ground war are smart, sustainable ways of involvement.  I do not believe that any campaign against these groups will be quick or easy, but a strategy of leveraging those partners we can, while engaging in limited involvement ourselves, is one that is most likely to be sustainable and tolerable to the American people and to the people of the region.

That, however, does not answer the question of whether or not it makes sense, legally or from a strategic standpoint, to include restrictions on ground forces in an AUMF.  We should also consider the sunset provision the President requested.  A three-year sunset may well give the Congress and the President an opportunity to revise an AUMF to keep pace with an evolving situation, hopefully one that changes for the better, but some may be concerned how it would be read by allies and adversaries overseas.  Similarly, some members are concerned how the draft AUMF describes the target of military action.  ISIL is fairly clear, but as we saw with the 2001 AUMF, “associated forces or persons” can evolve over time and some have argued for a narrow definition.  ISIL is concentrated, but not completely, in Iraq and Syria, the center of its so-called caliphate.  Does it make sense to focus an authorization geographically on these areas or to enable the Administration to pursue any ally of ISIL anywhere in the world?  And would that, to go back to the strategy question, risk diffusing our efforts?

There is an open question about how a new AUMF will interact with prior authorizations, particularly the 2001 AUMF.  If the Administration feels it can conduct military action in Syria and Iraq under the 2001 AUMF, then the limitations on ground troops in the draft AUMF language the President sent over may not mean very much. There are certainly many other variables and potential effects that we need to think through as we consider drafting a new AUMF.

Again, I thank our witnesses for appearing here today.  Members have lots of questions and concerns, and I am glad they can be here to help us begin to work through them.  I suspect that this is not the last hearing that will touch on this subject, so I hope the witnesses can help frame the debate and begin to provide some thoughts and some questions for us as we begin to work through this difficult subject.

Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.