Somin on AUMF Under Consideration for Strike Against Syria

The administration's draft authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against Syria would provide President Obama broad authority to use force even outside of Syria, observes Professor Ilya Somin, if passed by Congress in its original form. 

Although it does not appear likely that Congress will act on the AUMF without narrowing its language, Somin explains that the original authorization "would not be limited to using ground troops, and it could potentially allow him to attack Iran or Hezbollah if he concluded that doing so was necessary to prevent further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime." 

"It would also likely allow him to target the Syrian rebels, if it looks like they have chemical weapons themselves or are about to capture some of the regime's stockpiles," Somin adds.

Congress could place time and geographic constraints on the use of military force, says Somin, pointing out that precedents for such limitations go all the way back to the 1790s.

"Such limits may not matter much if all Obama intends is a quick 'shot across the bow,' as he said a few days ago," Somin points out. "But they will matter if the intervention goes beyond that, as could potentially occur even if Obama does not initially intend such an outcome." 

Somin says that while consideration by Congress of the scope of any AUMF is important, more important still is for Congress to consider whether it should authorize the use of force at all.

"So far, I haven't seen a plan for intervention in this conflict that is likely to significantly influence the future conduct of the Assad regime for the better without simultaneously strengthening radical Islamists among the rebels, who, at least according to many experts, are just as brutal and just as anti-American as Assad himself is," Somin explains.

Obama Seeks Flexibility for Use of Force in Syria, World Politics Review, September 4, 2013. By Catherine Cheney.

"'I don't think this amounts to a broader anti-WMD campaign in the sense of targeting all nations or non-state actors that might have WMD,' Somin said, explaining that the draft is limited to WMD 'within, to or from Syria.' 

"'But, given the connections between Syria and other nations in the region, especially Iran and Lebanon, it's certainly possible to envision those states becoming embroiled in any U.S. attack as well,' he added." 

Read the article