John Kerry faced immediate opposition from his own party Wednesday over President Obama’s plan to reuse the 9/11 authorization for military action to rubber stamp an attack on the Islamic State, with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez forcing Kerry to make his tortured case before warning that the administration must seek new approval for war.
The New Jersey Democrat began by with skepticism over the White House’s claim that a 2001 authorization for use of military force (AUMF) could be used to give legal authority for the president to act in Iraq without a congressional vote.
“How is it that the administration believes that the 9/11 AUMF — or the Iraq AUMF — provide the authorization to move forward, whether the Congress decides to or not?” he asked, noting that the administration had pushed for the Iraq AUMF to be repealed just one year previously.
The secretary of state began a convoluted response, saying that “good lawyers” in the State Department have concluded that the 2001 authorization “includes al-Qaeda — it’s always been interpreted as including al-Qaeda.”
“Al-Qaeda threw out ISIL,” Menendez replied.
“Al-Qaeda and associated forces,” Kerry insisted. “That is the language. al-Qaeda and associated forces. Now, ISIL began as al-Qaeda. In 2005 in Iraq, 2004, ISIL was al-Qaeda in Iraq. And it only became this thing called ISIL a year ago. And it only became that out of convenience, to separate themselves in an internal fight. . . . A mere publicity stunt to separate yourself and call yourself something else does not get you out from under the force of United States law that is targeting them.”
“I appreciate your ability as a former prosecutor and a gifted attorney to try to make the case,” Menendez said. “I will tell you that — at least from the chair’s perspective — you’re gonna need a new AUMF. Because I don’t want to be part of, thirteen years later and a multitude of countries that have been used in that regard, for that to be the authority.”