Power Wars: Two Important Backstories for Understanding the Shabab and AUMF Controversies

I wrote a half-reported, half-analysis article in the New York Times today that brings to public light a novel interpretation of the 2001 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the 9/11 perpetrators. The Obama administration believes it authorized the massive American airstrike in Somalia that killed 150 alleged low-level Shabab fighters — even though the government still does not consider the Shabab, as a group, to be covered by the 9/11 war authorization.

Readers who are interested in the ways in which the nearly 15-year-old 9/11 war authorization keeps getting stretched to erode limits on presidential war-making powers — a push that is fueled, in a vicious cycle, by Congressional fecklessness and paralysis — can look to two parts of Power Wars for insider backstories that help explain what is going on.

Chapter Six (“Targeted Killing”), Section Sixteen (“Is the United States at War with al-Shabaab?”)

The story of the argument as it erupted early in the Obama administration’s first term. The primary poles were Harold Koh, then the State Department legal adviser, and Jeh Johnson, then the Pentagon general counsel. Some of this material first came to public light in a Times story I wrote in September 2011 and in Daniel Klaidman’s 2012 book, Kill or Capture, but I had figured it out even more by the time of writing Power Wars and so  was able to fill in blanks, add a previously unknown twist about a specific targeted killing dispute between Koh and Johnson, and make the whole thing more coherent and understandable. (pages 274-279 in the hardcover edition)

Chapter Twelve (“The Tug of War”) Section Fifteen (“Extending the 9/11 War”)

The story of Obama’s decision to start bombing the Islamic State in the late summer of 2014 and how and why he came to say that he already had all the legal authority from Congress he needed to wage that fight from the 2001 9/11 war authorization, even though the Islamic State was Al Qaeda’s enemy. The description of the internal deliberations and the choice put to Obama — by Neil Eggleston, his White House counsel, and Brian Egan , then the National Security Counsel legal adviser and now the State Department legal adviser — about whether to make the controversial claim that the Islamic State war was part of the Al Qaeda war or whether to say it was a new and different war that would eventually need Congressional authorization, has not appeared elsewhere. (pages 685-690)