Al Qaeda and ISIS Make Peace: Does 2001 AUMF Now Justify War Against ISIS?

November 14th, 2014

One of the leading arguments to explain why the President lacks the authority to attack ISIS under the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaeda is that Al Qaeda expelled ISIS. The two groups did not get along. Although the AUMF allows the President to determine who “Al Qaeda” is, and he has explained that ISIS is the true inheritor of Bin Laden’s legacy (descended in fee simple), it was always a stretch to claim that Al Qaeda and ISIS were one.

But now, in a scene out of the Godfather, it seems after a pow-wow at a farm house in Syria, ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the same page.

Militant leaders from the Islamic State group and al-Qaida gathered at a farm house in northern Syria last week and agreed on a plan to stop fighting each other and work together against their opponents, a high-level Syrian opposition official and a rebel commander have told The Associated Press. …

he Associated Press reported late last month on signs that the two groups appear to have curtailed their feud with informal local truces. Their new agreement, according to the sources in rebel groups opposed to both IS and Nusra Front, would involve a promise to stop fighting and team up in attacks in some areas of northern Syria.

If this is in fact the case, the President’s reliance on the 2001 AUMF just got a lot stronger. This underscores the argument made often–how can it be that the legality of the President’s war depends on the alliances ISIS forms. Although, this is the same President who recently sought to repeal the 2001 AUMF.

We will see if the President still goes to Congress. Between immigration, ISIS, and Obamacare, the next two years will be intense.

Update: Jack Goldsmith agrees that this new alliance makes the 2001 AUMF argument much stronger:

It is hard to know what this means.  But if IS and Nusra Front “work[ing] together against their opponents” includes working together against the United States or its military forces in the region, and if, as many believe, Nusra Front is part of or very closely related to al Qaeda, then the 2001 AUMF would more straightforwardly than previously thought authorize the President to use force against IS.