How to end the war on terrorism properly
June 10th, 2013
07:35 AM ET

How to end the war on terrorism properly

By Mieke Eoyang and Christopher Preble, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mieke Eoyang is the director of the National Security Program at Third Way. Christopher Preble is the vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. The views expressed are their own.

In his speech on counterterrorism last month, President Barack Obama said something both profound and overdue – the war underway since 2001 should end, not just factually but also legally. Outlining his views, the president said he wanted to “refine, and ultimately repeal,” the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the main legislative vehicle governing U.S. counterterrorism operations around the world. He also pledged not to sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.

But to make that goal a concrete reality, the president should have called for legislation repealing the administration’s authority for war – sunsetting the AUMF, which provides the legal authorization for our troops in Afghanistan, once combat operations there conclude at the end of 2014. Future counterterrorism operations can rely on the plentiful authorities the executive branch already has, including some that have been added since 9/11. And if this president – or any other in the future – needs greater war powers to deal with a threat, they can return to Congress and ask for specific, limited authorities tailored to address the future challenge.

The fact is that while there are other ways the AUMF could be usefully altered, a clean repeal has significant advantages.

From an operational perspective, the AUMF authorizes military force, but we’re winding down our operations in Afghanistan. Our military presence there helped decimate core al Qaeda, leaving them a shadow of their former selves. And this matters, for without the organizational support and training from core al Qaeda’s veteran operational commanders – most of whom are either dead or incarcerated – most self-radicalized terrorists are caught long before their plots are successful. Military operations should be the mechanism of last resort to deal with terrorist plots, especially outside war zones like Afghanistan.

More from CNN: Bush's war on terror is over

The most successful counterterrorism operations involve timely intelligence collection and analysis, and cooperation with local officials, not open-ended military operations involving large deployments of U.S. troops. Law enforcement or intelligence services identified and disrupted multiple other plans over the years. These mechanisms do not rely upon the AUMF, so an eventual clean repeal won’t affect our ability to disrupt plots.

Conservatives who revere the Constitution should be most reluctant to hand over unending powers to the president. As James Madison said, granting “such powers [to the President] would have struck, not only at the fabric of our Constitution, but at the foundation of all well organized and well checked governments.”

Madison knew that war tended to enhance executive powers and erode liberties. And that has occurred. With Congressional acquiescence, the last two presidents have interpreted the AUMF as a warrant to attack or detain anyone that they say is a leader of al Qaeda or its associated forces, without geographic limit. The secretive and loose definition of those terms has given the president vast and excessive discretion to identify, target and kill suspected terrorists, or to detain indefinitely those who are captured. Sunsetting the law prevents that growth in executive power from becoming permanent.

Liberals who might trust this president’s discretion in using these authorities have good reason to be concerned about what future presidents might do with broad and unlimited authority. We have already seen how the passage of time has stretched the AUMF well beyond its original purpose. The list of targets already includes individuals and groups that were not directly involved in the attacks of 9/11. Even President Obama recognizes the risk. “Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions,” the President explained, “we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight.”

We believe there should be a bipartisan consensus about restoring the balance on war powers and on seeing an end to this conflict. And the U.S. experience over the past decade shows that we can do so while keeping the nation secure.

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Topics: Terrorism • United States

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Andrey

    The war on terror will never end if Washington can help it! It is the best thing that happened to American Military-Industrial complex in the last quarter century, since the fall of USSR! US will keep on fighting International terrorism and feeding and supporting it at the same time: as we can see now with al-Qaeda Spring! They will not do the same mistake again: allowing their enemy to totally fail! So you better forget about ending wars: they are good for business, remember!

    June 10, 2013 at 10:23 am | Reply
    • minnie mouse

      When Radical Islamists stop blowing up unarmed American civilians, then I'll start worrying about American politeness and doing things "properly".

      June 10, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Reply
    • bfitz

      Fareed is only a shill for Barack Obama. He spews crap and you lap it up and beg for more.

      June 15, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Reply
      • David

        I agreed with you

        June 16, 2013 at 12:41 am |
  2. Get with the Program

    IF radical Islam has unconditionally surrendered, THEN end the Global War On Terror, ELSE continue Global War on Terror.

    Unfortunately, Radical Islam's war on the world is not nearly over. The best we can hope is that a Democratized Middle East will allow populations to publicly record whether they consider themselves friends or enemies of the United States. This can reveal where we are wasting time and money and guide our future foreign aid and military activities. We will be able to democratically choose whether to spend decades on nation-building or minutes in missile launching.

    June 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Reply
    • CnnReviewer

      Your idea will never happen. Best we can do for now is to eliminate terrorism & Islam.

      June 10, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  3. Quigley

    This so- called "war on terrorism" is no more than a war for U.S. expansion into the Middle East and Central Asia. Then again, we've been at this ever since the 1840's when this country started the Mexican American War in 1846 in order to gain California and have never truly stopped!

    June 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • USMC1369

      Good posting, Quigley. It seems that you're well versed on American history. Unfortunately, others, especially those right-wing bloggers, definitely are not!

      June 10, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  4. rightospeak

    The " War On Terror" is phony. It was orchestrated on 9/11 by Bush & Co. to keep us in endless wars , to keep Christians and Muslims at each other's throats. Ron Paul had the right idea – bring all troops home , stop spending money we do not have. How do you stop terrorism ? You prosecute all war criminals-some already have been sentenced in other countries so Bush and others can not travel freely throughout the world. One bipartisan commission in the US called a number of our presidents war criminals but our media is keeping the report hush, hush. The media is run by war profiteers so endless wars are convenient for them. Unfortunately, the American taxpayer is footing the bill, Americans are dying in this phony war.

    June 10, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • David

      your comment is really a bullcrap, the way i see it

      June 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm | Reply
    • islamisvile

      most muslims are killed by fellow muslims ...muslims are fleeing fellow muslims not israel or the USA .
      muslims not happy? MOVE . muslims wont go hungry there are pleanty of muslims for muslims to eat

      June 17, 2013 at 4:59 am | Reply
  5. Towel Heads

    Step 1. Ban Islame.

    June 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  6. Rick

    Its not really a war on terror. Its a drive to keep overseas investments of the wealthy protected using military action paid for by the taxpayer.

    June 10, 2013 at 6:05 pm | Reply
    • Denverboy1

      Hit the nail right on the head there Rick

      June 11, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  7. DIOSDADO SASIL

    Why,is there an end to terrorism??? Isn't it part and parcel to our landscape already,as permanent fix???

    June 10, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Not only should the AUMF be repealed, the Patriot Act as well. Look at all those scandals lately! The Patriot Act had justified authorities to infringe on civil liberties of their citizens.
    James Madison was right about the presidential executive powers. I wonder what he would say about the 9/11 and its aftermath and what he would have done to deal with the situation.

    June 11, 2013 at 5:37 am | Reply
  9. Trollallday

    In order to end a war you have to root the cause of the war. There will always be a war if you are looking for one. And sometimes you have to know when to quit. Sometimes you have to stop chasing the dragon when you figure out that you will never catch it. (Elimination of Terrorism). Also the tyrant that the Americans have left in the Middle East for those poor people to deal with is just wrong. "Vini Vidi Vici" only works if all three are in harmony.

    June 11, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  10. Trollallday

    Tyranny not Tyrant for upper post.

    June 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  11. Denverboy1

    No good war should go unfunded...We fund the terrorist with our Petrol dollar abd fund the Military Complex with our Tax dollars... The winners ..are Saudis....Texas and the Defense indusatry who are good friends of the GOP ..There all good friends of the GOP...Really...So do we like war Hell No. ae we going continue to fight on ..Hell ya Why?? Because it's economicly good for America's 1%

    June 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Reply
    • Kerry

      You nailed it good, Denverboy1. Thank you. It feels good to see intelligent posts like yours here instead of all this idiot, pro-government, gung ho, shoot'em up crap posted by people here who cannot think their way out of a wet paper bag!

      June 12, 2013 at 8:02 am | Reply
  12. markjuliansmith

    "Our military presence there helped decimate core al Qaeda, leaving them a shadow of their former selves." and "How to end the war on terrorism properly" both statements try to hide a truth -al Qaeda is a mere historical morphing of the same since the seventh century – saying al Qaeda the threat to human security is diminished is exactly the same as claiming landing on the moon has diminished the strength of tidal movement on earth.

    Tony Blair recently detailed why this is the case.

    How many times in history do we see pieces of paper moved around to 'prove' peace in our time, ignoring a cultures clear genocidal construct of Other and as Tony Blair makes clear informs a consistant cultural 'spectrum' of behavioral variance inclusive of Terror.

    You can move around and rescind whatever pieces of paper you like this war between Islam and Other is set to intensify unless Islam is forced to change Muslim construct of Other.

    Where do you think ethics come from the back of a cornflakes packet? How many more bodies and examples of derived oppressive Muslim political manifestations do you need?

    June 12, 2013 at 10:19 am | Reply
    • Awabnavi

      The ONLY culture which conducted the Greatest Genocides in the History of the World is the White Christian Culture. They have almost totally wiped out the Natives of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, West Indies, etc., and taken over their lands. It is this White Culture which started and fought two terrible World Wars killing millions upon millions and culminating in the use of NUCLEAR BOMBS and including the Genocide of Six Million Jews. Not satisfied with this they continued to kill million of Koreans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, to name of few., and this guy has the temerity to say of others – "cultures clear genocidal construct of Other".

      June 13, 2013 at 11:40 am | Reply
      • islamisvile

        Which country do you most hate? Top answer – USA.

        In which country would you most like to live? Top answer – USA

        June 17, 2013 at 4:44 am |
  13. Rick McDaniel

    Obama has no ability to declare an end to a war, where the opposition will not surrender.

    He lives in fantasyland, and not reality!

    June 12, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Reply
  14. Awabnavi

    To end the war properly they should send in a MILLION TROOPS.

    June 13, 2013 at 11:26 am | Reply
    • islamisvile

      not troops , but the morning after pill ,let islam die out

      June 17, 2013 at 4:51 am | Reply
  15. Camilo Losayi

    Wars are the result of men's selfishness, greediness on the natural resources. In some african countries where there's no weapon war, there is another kind of war. lack of freedom, like Angola,The president owns the country's resource, as in Mozambique. The human is failing to control himself because of his ambintions.

    June 16, 2013 at 1:50 am | Reply
  16. E. Fitzgerald

    We are not Sparta! The U.S. should not be in "the business of war" for the economic gain of a few and ultimate sacrifice of our blood and treasure without more adequate control of the power to wage war currently in the hands of the president of this country. There is a difference between responding to direct attack on this country by an identified enemy and choosing to get involved in wars to protect or enhance the commercial interests abroad of a rich and powerful few.

    June 16, 2013 at 5:17 am | Reply
  17. dennisreid50

    I think that this is a subject that is overdue. Especially since it is my belief that the actual theatre of our new conflict is cyberspace based no longer conventional or kinetic to use a term from the book Cyber War.

    July 31, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Reply

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