War Is Over?

[ Posted Thursday, March 16th, 2023 – 15:29 UTC ]

Today the Senate voted on a repeal of two authorizations for war, the first from 1991 and the second from 2002. The first authorized the president to conduct the Persian Gulf War (or "Gulf War I") and the second authorized the invasion and overthrow of Iraq (or "Gulf War II"). These two wars will be unofficially over if the bill passes both chambers of Congress and is signed by President Biden. That's a historic thing to achieve, obviously.

Of course, these two wars were never official -- because the United States hasn't formally declared war on any country since World War II. Instead, in both 1991 and 2002, Congress passed an "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" (A.U.M.F.) which gave congressional consent to an American president waging a long war in a foreign country. There is a dicey question that has been argued over since Vietnam about who is really in charge of sending America troops to war -- the president or Congress -- so this left no doubt that both would be on the same page, but without going so far as to formally pass a declaration of war. What the legislation which moved forward today would do would be to officially revoke both of these A.U.M.F.s .

What many media reports have been leaving out, though, is that there is a third active A.U.M.F. that isn't specifically related to waging war on Iraq. It passed in 2001 immediately after the 9/11 attacks, and was the start of what became known as "the War On Terror." It authorized military action against those who attacked us on 9/11, and was used to wage war in Afghanistan and many other countries (eventually). This A.U.M.F. will still be in place even if the Senate bill passes. Senator Rand Paul and others have been trying to repeal this A.U.M.F. as well, but this may not make it into the current legislation.

The White House and the Pentagon seem supportive of ending the 1991 and 2002 A.U.M.F.s, it should be noted. The Office of Management and Budget put a statement out expressing this support:

Repeal of these authorizations would have no impact on current U.S. military operations and would support this Administration's commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners. Furthermore, President Biden remains committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.

The bill cleared its first hurdle in the Senate with a veto-proof 68-27 vote, which shows an amazing level of bipartisan support for the effort. Nineteen Republicans voted for it. But the bill will now have to face a round of votes to add amendments, so final passage is still not guaranteed. And who knows what Kevin McCarthy will do with it over in the House (these days)?

Even so, this is a necessary thing to do, and I for one hope it does pass. Here is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer explaining why on the Senate floor:

Repealing this A.U.M.F. is a necessary step towards putting the final remnants of the Iraq War squarely behind us. Every year we leave this A.U.M.F. on the books is another year a future administration can abuse it. Congress, the rightful dispenser of war powers, cannot allow this to continue.

The heart of the issue is that presidents have been stretching the language of these A.U.M.F.s as far as they can -- mostly to wage military operations they didn't want to get explicit congressional permission for. They'd say: "Well, the older A.U.M.F. is enough to give us the power to take this action," and that would be that. There was never any explicit authorization for the U.S. military to operate in Syria, to point out just one example of this (an A.U.M.F. was introduced to cover Syria in 2013, but Congress did not pass it).

Rand Paul has a point, too. The most expansive interpretation of an A.U.M.F. has happened under the "War On Terror" authorization. Since it was never explicitly about just one country to begin with, it has at times been used as carte blanche for military operations wherever not just Al Qaeda operated, but also any other Islamic terrorist organization (even those that had nothing to do with 9/11). But repealing the 2001 War On Terror A.U.M.F. is seen as a lot more politically contentious, so it may not make it into the current bill. Paul has said he is thinking about offering a measure to do so as an amendment, but even if he does there's no guarantee that it'll pass and be added to the core bill.

The two senators behind the push for this bill, Tim Kaine and Todd Young, want to pass it for the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, which happens this month. Kaine explained his motivation: "The enemy against whom we declared war is no more. There's no reason, none, to have a war authorization against a strategic partner." Kaine also pointed out that only three current senators were even in office when the Gulf War was authorized in 1991 -- which makes sense, since it has been 32 years (or almost a third of a century) since it did pass.

When America does declare war on another country -- officially or unofficially -- it is eventually supposed to end. Even without grand ceremonies of formal surrender, at some point the fighting either stops or is reduced to a minor problem and the United States should move on. One of the amendments expected would specifically point out that the president still has the authority to fight Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, which have attacked U.S. troops in the past. But authorizing this limited amount of force would be a lot more specific and germane to the actual situation on the ground as it stands now (as opposed to where it stood when Saddam Hussein was still in power).

So hopefully, 32 years after the first authorization and 20 years after the most recent invasion of Iraq, America will actually see a war be declared over. While the 2001 A.U.M.F. may still be in force, this will at least bring to a close one chapter of foreign war for this country. And that, as I said, is a historic occasion that does not happen very often, so it is worth celebrating and supporting. With the 20th anniversary timeline built into the push to pass this bill, we may actually see some quick congressional action on it too. It's time. The war is over. Let's update the law to reflect this fact.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “War Is Over?”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    What the legislation which moved forward today would do would be to officially revoke both of these A.U.M.F.s.

    What it won't do is prevent another stupid US-led war from happening, again. Unless, of course, critical lessons have been learned. Oh, wait ...

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Of course, these two wars were never official -- because the United States hasn't formally declared war on any country since World War II.

    And, that very legacy, especially including the Vietnam (non-official) war, has done more than anything else to widen the rift between the government and the governed in the US.

    As for the rest of us out in the world, we lost confidence in the ability of the US to lead the world to a better place a long time ago.

    While it came a decade and a half too late, I had hoped a Biden administration would reverse course on that steadily declining confidence in America's global leadership role but, alas, the situation has only worsened and the new world order Biden hoped to preside over is nothing more than a mirage.

  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Of course, there are other reasons for America's steady decline - at home and in the world - and really would be fodder for an entire series of articles here. They might range from an in-depth look at the military industrial complex to the latest culture wars.

    On that score, I might be able to entice a few concerned souls to contribute their insightful comments ...

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    The bill cleared its first hurdle in the Senate with a veto-proof 68-27 vote, which shows an amazing level of bipartisan support for the effort.

    Not that anyone is implying that Biden would veto such a bill, right?

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