Can Obama Legally Wage War on ISIS?

September 22, 2014 Updated: September 22, 2014

President Obama has the popular support to go to war on ISIS, but can he really do so? 

The Commander in Chief of might have authorized military action against ISIS and have 53 percent of Americans approve of his action, but he may not have the legal authority to do so. 

It all boils down to how the 2001 Authorization for the use of Military Force (AUMF) is interpreted. 

Congress had voted for the AUMF in order to authorize President George W. Bush to declare war on the al Qaeda and its “associates” shortly after the 9/11 attacks. 

Because the AUMF is so broadly worded, it has been used to justify all American military action since its inception, and is a classic case of “mission creep,” where the scope of a mission Congress approves for extends to other unintended conflicts. 

For instance, Obama used the AUMF to justify the strikes against Al-Shabab in Somalia because al-Shabab is affiliated with al Qaeda. 

In the case of ISIS, legal scholars are arguing that Obama cannot declare war on the terrorist group because they technically have not attacked the United States.

ISIS might have committed plenty of atrocities and beheaded two American journalists, but Obama will be hard pressed to justify that as an act of war against the US. 

Also, while ISIS is an al Qaeda splinter group, it is considered to be too extreme by al Qaeda, and ISIS was publicly expelled by them earlier in the year. 

If Obama does decide to proceed in taking military action against ISIS using his current legal justifications, it will set an unhealthy precedent that future presidents can follow.