NEW DELHI: United States President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech has been the focus of attention since it was delivered on Tuesday night. The highlight was an unscripted six words that silenced the Republic delegation, who erupted in a sarcastic cheer when Obama said, “I have no more campaigns to run." The US President then paused, and followed the statement (and subsequent cheer) with "I know — because I won both of them."

References to the incident trended on social media, with a majority of the Twitterati praising the President’s rejoinder.

The incident however, is reflective of the deep divisions in Congress, with the GOP having seized control of both chambers in November. In fact, despite a call to end the partisan bickering that has plagued Washington, the Republican delegation sat quiet as Obama outlined Democratic priorities including tax rises for the rich, action on climate change, subsiding college tuition, and infrastructure spending.

Perhaps knowing fully well that any legislative proposals will be difficult to pass given the Republican-controlled Congress, the President’s State of the Union address sounded more like a defense of his record than policy recommendations.

One of the legislations that Obama did make an appeal for was to grant legal authority to continue military action in Syria and Iraq. “In Iraq and Syria, American leadership?—?including our military power?—?is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism. This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL,” the US President said.

Lawmakers however, said that they hoped the President would have been more clear about what this authorisation would entail. “He’s called on Congress to take action without one sentence, one proposal from him as to what he wants,” Rep. Michael Turner, Ohio Republican, said after the speech (as quoted by The Washington Times).

“What is his proposal of what he wants to be in the AUMF? He’s the commander in chief so I am glad, I believe we should be looking at authorizing force, however I want to know what is his plan for success,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican. “That is a fair question and we have not seen that from the president yet,” added Ayotte (as quoted by The Washington Times).

Despite the continuing lack of clarity, the US President’s statement indicates that the war in the Middle East is far from over.

Thus far, the legal justification for the war has been murky, based on the Congress’ 2002 authorisation of the Iraq War and the 2001 authorisation to fight Al Qaeda. The Obama administration had maintained that it wants to repeal the Iraq authorisation, ironically ending up relying on it to provide separate statutory authority for the strikes in Iraq.

The White House, however, maintains that it has the authority to act based on the 2001 AUMF which was passed after the September 11 attacks that allows the US to strike Al Qaeda. However, the legality of this position is disputed given that the IS and Al Qaeda have distanced themselves from each other, making the 2002 Iraq authorisation an added legal backing that the Obama administration has been willing to invoke.

Just a few months ago, in July, the National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that the the Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was no longer operative.

“With American combat troops having completed their withdrawal from Iraq on December 18, 2001, the Iraq AUMF is no longer used for any U.S. government activities and the Administration fully supports its repeal,” Rice wrote to Speaker of the House in July.

Time Magazine reproduced a statement by a senior Obama administration official that explains how the 2001 AUMF can be applied to the Islamic State.

“The 2001 AUMF authorizes the use of “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” responsible for 9/11 and those who “harbored such organizations or persons.” The Administration has interpreted the 2001 AUMF to authorize the use of force against AQ, the Taliban, and associated forces. Based on ISIL’s longstanding relationship with al-Qa’ida (AQ) and Usama bin Laden; its long history of conducting, and continued desire to conduct, attacks against U.S. persons and interests, the extensive history of U.S. combat operations against ISIL dating back to the time the group first affiliated with AQ in 2004; and ISIL’s position — supported by some individual members and factions of AQ-aligned groups — that it is the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy, the President may rely on the 2001 AUMF as statutory authority for the use of force against ISIL, notwithstanding the recent public split between AQ’s senior leadership and ISIL.”

A statement provided to the New York Times echoed a similar position, with a senior official saying, “The president may rely on the 2001 A.U.M.F. as statutory authority for the military airstrike operations he is directing. “As we have explained, the 2002 Iraq A.U.M.F. would serve as an alternative statutory authority basis on which the president may rely for military action in Iraq. Even so, our position on the 2002 A.U.M.F. hasn’t changed and we’d like to see it repealed.”

Obama’s move for a new authorisation is in light of the above complications, especially as Congress is to rule whether the current engagement in Iraq counts as a new engagement or an extension of the previous Iraq war.

Watch the full State of the Union address here: