If Congressman Adam Kinzinger gets his way, Joe Biden may soon have an AUMF (authorization for the use of military force) in his back pocket, allowing him to quickly deploy the American military against Russia. While that may sound rather drastic, he’s not talking about U.S. tanks rolling toward Kyiv tomorrow or even at any specific time in the future. He’s framing his resolution as a “red line in the sand” that Russia will cross if Putin decides to deploy WMDs in Ukraine. He promoted his plan on some of the Sunday shows yesterday, but it’s unclear how much popular support such a measure will attract. Biden should clearly need to have an AUMF before sending American troops into combat anywhere new, but other members of Congress may prove a bit squeamish about signing their names to anything that essentially amounts to the kickoff of a third world war. (The Hill)

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) on Sunday introduced an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) resolution that, if passed, would authorize President Biden to utilize U.S. forces to defend Ukraine if Russia uses chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against its neighbor.

Kinzinger announced the joint resolution during an interview with moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Asked if he thought it was too soon to be discussing potential use of force in Ukraine, Kinzinger said, “No, I don’t.”

“I don’t think we need to be using force in Ukraine right now. I just introduced an AUMF, an authorization for the use of military force, giving the president basically congressional leverage for permission to use it if WMDs [weapons of mass destruction], nuclear, biological or chemical are used in Ukraine,” Kinzinger said.

Kinzinger is describing the proposed AUMF as a “deterrent to Putin,” aimed at discouraging him from using WMDs. But is that how it would actually work out? Mad Vlad has proven to be rather unpredictable on the best of days lately, though his team keeps up a steady supply of pro-Russian propaganda on state media. While I would have previously viewed such a possibility as being unthinkable, I’m no longer sure that we can rule out the idea that Putin might describe the AUMF as an American declaration of war on Russia and use that as an excuse to turn all of the war knobs up to eleven.

If such military action were authorized under the circumstances Kinzinger is describing it would also represent a complete shift in the official United States position on Ukraine. Joe Biden unfortunately sent a very clear message to the Kremlin before the invasion began, saying that there would be no military response unless Russia attacked any NATO members. The rest of the NATO nations quickly fell in line with that idea. That was obviously all Putin needed to hear so he went ahead with the invasion secure in the knowledge that nobody else would wade into the fight. We didn’t include any sort of “unless you use WMDs” provision in the policy.

Since that time, Putin has been rattling sabers on a regular basis, threatening to deploy nuclear weapons or other advanced military technology. It’s still impossible to say with any certainty whether he’s being serious or just using that sort of rhetoric to try to frighten Zelensky into surrendering. I would previously have described the prospect of Russia deploying WMDs as also being unthinkable, but a lot of unthinkable things have been happening lately.

I’m hoping, though perhaps without much confidence, that Joe Biden has already gamed out all of these scenarios with the Joint Chiefs and congressional leaders. At this point, it seems clear that the Russian war in Ukraine only ends in one of three ways. The first and most desirable scenario would be for Ukraine to use all of the military aid it’s receiving and definitively defeat the Russians and drive them back out of the country. But it looks rather unlikely they will be able to do that in the Donbas region any time soon. The second is a scenario where Russia further partitions Ukraine and then ceases hostilities for the most part, aside from probably fighting a long-term insurrection in the newly acquired regions. And the final option involves Russia fully upping the ante, including the potential use of WMDs. We need to be prepared for either of the last two possibilities and decide how much of Russia’s aggressive actions we’re willing to tolerate before we move to rally our allies and take Putin on directly. And we have to have that plan settled on now before Putin makes the choice unavoidable.

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