CLEVELAND, OH – JULY 18: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) delivers a speech on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The four-day Republican National Convention kicks off on July 18. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND ― The United States has the authority to shoot down Russian fighter jets because Congress voted 15 years ago to authorize a war against al Qaeda, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) argued Thursday.
Many members of Congress already think the 2001 authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of Sept. 11 ― not to mention the 2002 vote to invade Iraq ― have been stretched well past their intent by the Obama administration to target the Islamic State and Syria.
Such opponents argue that if those so-called AUMFs can be extended to include Syria or the Islamic State ― an organization that did not even exist at the time they were passed ― they could be used to justify almost anything.
Cotton may have offered the most striking example yet.
Speaking at an event hosted by Politico called “The New Republican Foreign Policy at the RNC,” Cotton, who has argued for a no-fly zone over Syria, was asked whether the next president would have the authority to target a Russian plane, or if new legislation from Congress would be needed for such an escalation.
Cotton suggested that if the United States presented a strong enough deterrent, there should be no need to shoot down anyone’s planes, as Turkey did recently when a Russian fighter allegedly violated Turkish airspace.
But he was unequivocal that the president would have the legal power to order such a strike based on the old AUMFs.
“I think as part of the authorizations of 2001 and 2002, the president has more than enough authority from Congress, as well as inherent constitutional authority, to prosecute the war against the Islamic State,” Cotton said.
Reminded that the question was about Russia, Cotton allowed that it would be helpful to have a newer, less restrained war authorization. But he argued there was plenty of linkage back to Iraq and al Qaeda because Russia backs the regime of Syria’s Bashar Assad. He also threw in applying the power to Iran.
“Syria is a complex, interlocking issue,” he said. “If it wasn’t for Russia, or for that matter Iran and Iran’s role in Syria, if it wasn’t for the regional aggression of Iran and their support for the Assad regime, the Islamic State would have a much less compelling case to make to local Sunnis who feel endangered not just by their role but by the aggression of Shiite militias and Assad.”
President Barack Obama has proposed a new AUMF that would limit the scope of the war against ISIS, but Congress has refused to vote on it, or vote on a more robust proposal that Cotton would favor.