In these increasingly grim Days of Rage and COVID, you have to take your laughs where you can find them, sometimes from unusual sources. It has come to my attention that the Republican Study Committee—the nearly 150‐strong caucus of House conservatives—recently released a comprehensive national security strategy entitled, “Strengthening America & Countering Global Threats.” The “product of over 1.5 years of policy development,” this 120‐page manifesto is “a conservative, solutions‐oriented plan” that “advances the interests of the American people at home and abroad,” according to RSC Chairman Rep. Mike Johnson (R.-LA) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R.-SC).
One of those purported solutions involves constitutional war powers. The RSC report acknowledges that the congressional resolutions the president currently relies upon to wage war—the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs)—are “outdated,” have been “stretched,” and therefore “some conservatives may be concerned with increasingly degraded congressional war powers.” What’s needed, the RSC says, is a new AUMF “giving the President sufficient authority to go after terrorist organizations for a definitive length of time without granting vague and indefinite war powers.” But what the House GOP brain trust has come up with would empower the president to wage war in, among other places, Peru, Sri Lanka, Japan, Spain, and—why not?—Northern Ireland. In (God help me) nearly two decades of following the war powers issue, it’s the most ridiculous proposal I’ve ever seen.
Here’s the RSC’s bright idea: replacing the 2001 and 2002 resolutions with “an AUMF that authorizes the President to engage in operations against any currently designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) that is on the Department of State’s list at the time of enactment.” Granted, it would be nice to have a fixed, public list of terrorist organizations Congress has empowered the president to target. What we’ve got instead is runaway mission creep, as successive presidents have expanded the war on terror to new theaters and new jihadist groups under the rubric of “[Al Qaeda‐] associated forces.” Along the way, they’ve been extraordinarily cagey about which groups we’re at war with and which ones we might target next. As a result, nearly two decades after 9/11, the U.S. is engaged in combat operations in some 14 countries, bombing half a dozen of them on a semi‐regular basis.
And, true enough, the State Department has a list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations that it’s maintained since the late ‘90s, following criteria outlined in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. You can take a look at the FTO list here. It includes some 67 groups in 30 countries.
Did anybody at the RSC look at the list? Somebody involved in drafting this batty proposal visited the State Department’s FTO site at least once: the URL’s right there in footnote #369. But apparently, no one bothered to, er, study the page long enough to wonder: does the president really need standing authority to launch airstrikes and kill‐or‐capture missions against, say, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (Sri Lanka), the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Real Irish Republican Army, the Continuity IRA (splitters!), the ragtag band of Greek Marxists who go by the name “Revolutionary Struggle”—and umpteen other groups that pose no significant threat to the United States?
A bunch of these sects are yesterday’s news: the Japanese terror‐cult Aum Shinrikyo “has not conducted a terrorist attack since 1995,” per State’s last available report, and Japan executed seven of its leaders two years ago. The Basque separatist group Fatherland and Liberty, responsible for killing over 800 people in Spain and France over its 50‐year history, ceased active operations in 2011 and formally disbanded in 2018. There’s a delisting process through which inactive groups can be removed, but it clearly hasn’t kept pace with current events in the terror community.
That’s probably because the FTO roster wasn’t compiled with military targeting in mind. It’s mainly used to restrict terrorist financing, prevent admission of FTO members to the U.S. and to show diplomatic solidarity with allies facing their own extremist threats. It was never supposed to be a kill list.
No doubt, your average RSC member is more hawkish than the small cadre of antiwar Republicans in the House. But surely none of the members who signed onto this document loves war so much that they’re completely indifferent to where, why, and with whom it’s waged. Instead, it seems nobody involved in crafting this proposal gave much thought to how it would work and what it would do. Clearly, the intellectually lazy, dog‐ate‐my‐homework approach to public policy didn’t start with Donald J. Trump and it won’t end with him.