Will Congress Repeal the Forever War in the Middle East?

The United States has continuously been at war since September 11, 2001 when George W. Bush declared the war on terrorism on September 16, 2001 as shown in this quote:

"As President Bush returned to the White House from a weekend war council, he and top Cabinet members made the case for a sustained battle against the terrorists responsible for last week's attack on America.

One by one, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to dole out the same tough talk.

Each cast the terrorists responsible for the suicide hijack attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as "evil."

But they also urged patience, warning that this was a war unlike any America had ever fought, against a completely new kind of enemy….

Hours later, Bush – with his wife, Laura, at his side – also counseled patience as he returned from meetings over the weekend with his top foreign policy and military advisers at Camp David.

"This crusade – this war on terrorism – is going to take a while," Bush said. "And the American people must be patient. I'm going to be patient. But I can assure the American people I am determined."

 …and has been involved in military actions in the Philippines, Cameroon, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan since operations first began in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, nearly 20 years ago.  In the latest development on the longest war in American history, the Biden Administration invited itself to the "party" in Syria by using airstrikes on February 25, 2021 to target "Iranian-backed Shia militias" that had allegedly used rockets to attack American forces in the region.

Many of these military operations have been undertaken under the umbrella of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorism or AUMF which was hastily passed into law on September 14, 2001. Here is the text of S.J.Res. 23 of the 107th Congress with the key point highlighted:

"Begun and held at the City of Washington on Wednesday, the third day of January, two thousand and one Joint Resolution

To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.

Whereas, on September 11, 2001, acts of treacherous violence were committed against the United States and its citizens; and

Whereas, such acts render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad; and

Whereas, in light of the threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence; and

Whereas, such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States; and

Whereas, the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This joint resolution may be cited as the ‘Authorization for Use of Military Force’.

SEC. 2. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.

(a) IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements-

(1) SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

(2) APPLICABILITY OF OTHER REQUIREMENTS- Nothing in this resolution supercedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Vice President of the United States and

 President of the Senate.

It is this nearly two-decade-old bill that is still being used to justify America's endless wars.

Another AUMF was passed in October 2002, authorizing the use of force against Iraq as shown here:

…and quoted here:

"The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to—

(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and

2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

Recently, a Senate Joint Resolution was introduced by Senators Tim Kain (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) repelling the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs against Iraq but, oddly enough, leaving the 2001 AUMF still in place.  

Here is the resolution:

Here is a comment by Tim Kaine regarding his proposal:

Last week’s airstrikes in Syria show that the Executive Branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers.  Congress has a responsibility to not only vote to authorize new military action, but to repeal old authorizations that are no longer necessary. The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs that underpinned the war against Iraq need to be taken off the books to prevent their future misuse. They serve no operational purpose, keep us on permanent war footing, and undermine the sovereignty of Iraq, a close partner. I call on Congress to promptly take up this measure and for the Biden Administration to support it to finally show the American people that the Article I and II branches can work together on these issues.”

For years there have been clear dissent with the current legislation and that a new, improved version of the AUMF is needed.  In an article on the Just Security website by Tess Bridgeman et al, the following recommendations are made for a new AUMF:

1.) A new AUMF must authorize force against a specific group or groups with a specific objective.

2.) A new AUMF must explicitly preclude the use of force against countries or armed groups other than those that are specifically named.

3.) A new AUMF must have a sunset clause of 3 years which would allow every other Congress to vote on whether the AUMF should be wound up, changed or renewed.

4.) A new AUMF should specify that the use of force is permitted when military action is the only option to protect the United States.

5.) A new AUMF must require that authority be in compliance with international laws including human rights laws.

6.) A new AUMF should contain reporting requirements that keep Congress and the public informed every two months or less.

7.) The 2001 AUMF and the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs regarding Iraq should be repealed to prevent further misuse.

Let's close with this tweet from Barbara Lee (D-CA), the only member of Congress who presciently voted against the AUMF as shown here:

Here is her tweet:

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