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Vox Sentences: Why Obama's going back to Congress on ISIS

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

We've decided to try a pretty different format for today's Sentences. Love it? Hate it? Let me know at


Secretary of State John Kerry with Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who'll work with the administration in crafting an AUMF. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In 2001, Congress passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) giving the president sweeping powers to use the military to pursue terrorist groups that "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." Since then, that language has been stretched nearly to a breaking point. President Obama has used it to justify his bombing campaign against ISIS, which didn't have much of anything to do with 9/11 because it didn't exist at the time. Basically, Amanda Taub explains, "the administration is arguing that the 2001 AUMF authorizes the president to go to war against any organization that ever temporarily worked with al-Qaeda, even if the group in question didn't actually exist in 2001." Legal experts were understandably skeptical of the administration's move.

Now, President Obama's attempting to put himself on more solid legal footing. He is proposing a new AUMF (which you can read here) that would explicitly authorize him to fight ISIS. But there are some limitations he's inserting. In his letter to Congress announcing the proposal, he writes that it "would not authorize long‑term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our Nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Local forces, rather than U.S. military forces, should be deployed to conduct such operations." More limited ground operations, like rescue missions or special ops, would be okay. But he wouldn't have the authority to drop 200,000 troops into Iraq.

That's funny, because Obama claimed in his interview with Vox that he does have that authority now. He's in the odd position of asking Congress to make him less powerful. He's done that before; last year he endorsed repealing the 2002 AUMF authorizing the war in Iraq. And this proposal doesn't go as far as many war critics would like, particularly as it leaves the 2001 AUMF on the books. "Any limitations Congress imposes under the new AUMF could be ignored," Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. "This is a meaningless exercise unless it includes repeal of the original AUMF."

But it's still enough to provoke Congressional skepticism. This is one area where they do want Obama to be more powerful. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at a press conference, "If we’re going to authorize the use of military force, the president should have all the tools necessary to win the fight that we’re in."

Chapel Hill police

Chapel Hill police investigate the murder of three young Muslims. (Al Drago / The News & Observer / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, three Muslim students — 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat and 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, who were married, and Abu Salha's 19-year-old sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha — have been murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Barakat was a dentistry student at UNC and Yusor Abu-Salha was set to enroll in dentistry school this coming fall; her younger sister was at North Carolina State.

We don't know why they were killed. 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks has been charged in the shooting; his wife, Karen Hicks, insists that the killing had nothing to do with the victims' religion, that it was a horrific culmination of a neighborly dispute over parking. The family of the deceased thinks otherwise. The Abu-Salhas' father, Mohammed, told the News and Observer, "This was not a dispute over a parking space; this was a hate crime."

Whatever Hicks' ultimate motivation, Muslim community activists have responded by raising awareness of anti-Muslim hate crimes. The hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter (an allusion to #BlackLivesMatter, popular following the Ferguson protests) has taken off. And the rate of anti-Muslim hate crimes is still much higher than it was prior to 9/11.

Before the attacks, the FBI "typically recorded between 20 and 30 anti-Muslim hate crimes per year," Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham writes. "But in 2001 that number rose more than tenfold to nearly 500. In the years since, annual hate crimes against Muslims have consistently hovered in the 100-150 range, roughly five times higher than the pre-9/11 rate." Not all state and local law enforcement agencies participate in the FBI statistics program, so that's probably an undercount. Ingraham does note that "Jews are consistently targeted for their faith more often than members of any other religious group," with Muslims a distant second. But the trend is nonetheless very troubling.

Jon Stewart

Comedy Central

(Comedy Central)

ICYMI: Jon Stewart is retiring from The Daily Show after sixteen years (you can watch his announcement on last night's episode here). This raises two immediate questions: (a) who's going to replace him and (b) what is the legacy of the Stewart-led show?

Well, for one thing we don't know that Comedy Central is going to keep the show going. Time's Brian Moylan says just cancel it: "The Daily Show is infused with Stewart’s indelible DNA. No one remembers that tall blonde guy who hosted it before him." The network appears to disagree, as AP's Lynn Elber reports they have a shortlist of Stewart replacements. Let's hope it has some overlap with Todd VanDerWerff's great suggestions, from the super-famous and implausible (Tina Fey, Chris Rock) to the lesser known but destined-for-big-things (current Daily Show correspondent Jessica Williams, Cameron Esposito).

As for Stewart's legacy, Slate's Jamelle Bouie gets something really important in his take: "His protests to the contrary, Stewart is a pundit, and like many pundits, he’s wed to a kind of anti-politics, where genuine difference doesn’t exist (or isn’t as relevant as we think) and political problem-solving is mostly a matter of will, knowledge, and technocratic know-how."

One part of Bouie's critique is unquestionably true: Stewart often used his status as a comedian as a shield. On his famous 2004 Crossfire appearance, he responded to criticism of the Daily Show's interview with then-Democratic nominee John Kerry by saying, "The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls." That's kind of a copout, Will Leitch notes at Bloomberg: "This always struck me as disingenuous, an abdication of the responsibility of someone who certainly seemed to believe what he was saying on television; Stewart wanted the cachet of politics, the source material, but not the exchange of ideas."

But the other part of Bouie's critique — that Stewart's willingness to take easy stands for "sanity" and against "ideologues" promotes a dangerous complacency — is worth considering. "Stewart can bring Obama onto the Daily Show and ask softball questions because it makes him feel good to have a president that’s smart and reasonable," Aaron Bady writes, "who makes a war where we kill innocent people constantly and for no reason seem smart and reasonable."

Then again, maybe the wishy-washiness of Stewart's positions is outweighed by the informativeness of the program. Ryan McCarthy argues at Wonkblog that Stewart paved the way for the media criticism of the early blogosphere, and the more explanatory bent of web news outlets like, uh, Vox: "The media world had taken Stewart’s most basic impulses — breaking down the biases, inherent fluffiness and navel-gazery of our political and pundit class — and turned them into something ubiquitous."