FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 28, 2016
WASHINGTON, DC—In case you missed it, President Obama unwisely and illegally expanded the war on terror over Thanksgiving weekend. The New York Times reported the administration is again torturing and twisting the 2001 authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The new target is Al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group based in Somalia and whose primary objectives are local.
After the sharia-law-promoting Islamic Courts Union was defeated by Ethiopian, African Union, and Somali forces in 2006 with U.S. assistance, Al-Shabaab emerged to fight "enemies of Islam," meaning the Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union Mission to Somalia. Al-Shabaab has been pushed out of the cities and is limited to rural areas now.
Defense Priorities opposes this expansion for it is unconstitutional and unwise:
Unconstitutional: Al-Shabaab did not exist in 2001. Its objectives have been focused on Somalia and the immediate region. Animosity toward the United States would have been less if our government had not aided its opponents.
Claims that this action protects Americans in the region is baseless. If American diplomats and soldiers were not deployed (without congressional authorization) to Somalia, Al-Shabaab couldn't threaten them.
The 2001 AUMF does not apply to Al-Shabaab, and thus this expansion is illegal and unconstitutional.
Unwise: Even if Congress passed a new AUMF against Al-Shabaab, the President would be foolish to get America involved in the internal affairs of yet another country.
The Somali government needs to improve its own capabilities. With support from the African Union and from neighbors such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti, it can contain and defeat Al-Shabaab both through military force and with economic and political reforms. What happens in Somalia is practically irrelevant to U.S. interests—security and otherwise—but it is a major interest for those in the region.
Concerns with Islamist jihadists are not trivial and should not be minimized. Their views and practices are barbaric. But interventions often have unintended and indirect but predictable consequences such as breeding resentment and fueling backlash. That can be far worse than keeping a close eye on them with intelligence assets and related law enforcement while maintaining strong commercial and diplomatic ties with nearby responsible actors.