The war criminals in the next administrations will have President Obama to thank for his institutionalized expansions of executive power. There is a famous quote by Noam Chomsky that goes “If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.”
In all the outrage about the unhinged things Donald Trump keeps tweeting and saying, there’s been almost zero criticism at the fact that Obama will be partly responsible for the extraordinary scope of powers Trump inherits. The Obama administration has not only done nothing to curtail the slew of extreme national security and war powers that Trump is about to acquire since the election – the White House is actively expanding them.
One of the most undercovered aspects of Obama’s legacy has been how he has waged war, unilaterally expanding the original 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks almost beyond recognition. It’s currently being used to legally justify the administration’s war on Isis in about a half dozen countries (that we know of), despite Isis not being in existence at the time AUMF was passed. It’s also being used to authorize action against a host of other groups, though who they are is classified.
Now, the Obama administration has warped the AUMF even further. As the New York Times reported on Monday, the White House is claiming it can use the 2001 law to go after al-Shabaab in Somalia, another group that didn’t exist in 2001, which the Times openly states in its lead paragraph “will strengthen President-elect Donald J Trump’s authority” to wage war when he enters office.
Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Micah Zenko didn’t mince words in the Times when describing what the Obama administration is doing: “It’s crazy,” he said of the administration’s redefining the law out of existence. “This administration leaves the Trump administration with tremendously expanded capabilities and authorities.”
Make no mistake: Trump will have a free hand to use the law meant for the perpetrators of 9/11 to wage war around the world, fashioning it to different enemies at his command, and he will be able to point to precedent set by the Obama administration as he does it.
Per usual, all the White House’s decisions are being made under the veil of official secrecy. The only reason we know about it is not because the administration announced it, but because the New York Times reported it after unnamed officials leaked it to them.
The developing Somalia war and more war-making latitude for JSOC comes on the heels of the Obama administration already quietly deepening the US military’s 15-year war in Afghanistan over the summer (you know, the war Obama announced had “ended” in December 2014) to the point where there were, according to Zenko, more airstrikes in that country in October than at any point in the past two years. Earlier this year, Obama also quietly exempted Libya “from 2013 rules that restrict drone strikes and other counterterrorism operations away from battlefield zones” — rules which he announced to great to great fanfare at the time.
And if you’re holding out hope that the Obama administration will change course at the very last minute, don’t. We already know that almost immediately after the election, the Obama administration made clear that it wouldn’t attempt to tighten rules around the CIA’s controversial drone strike program or provide any more transparency to a program that many believe is illegal and unconstitutional.
Trump is now coming into office with ever expanding war powers, and they’re being served to him on a silver platter by the same people who told the American public two months ago that Trump was so unstable and thin-skinned that he couldn’t be trusted with the nuclear codes.