November 30, 2021

Bipartisan Consensus on AUMF Repeal

Americans hear a lot about how Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on anything. This is largely due to the media’s vested interest in keeping us divided along party or ideological lines. Because of that vested interest in keeping us divided, we don’t often learn much about the areas where there’s consensus. There’s also skepticism toward bipartisanship. When people hear that word, they ordinarily believe that Democrats and Republicans are coming together in some way to screw over taxpayers. It’s all really a shame.

But there are instances in which bipartisanship can potentially have a positive outcome. For example, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Jared Golden (D-ME), Peter Meijer (R-MI), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) have introduced the Outdated AUMF Repeal Act, H.R. 2014, to repeal the existing authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) passed in 1957, 1991, and 2002. The text of the legislation is available here.

In March 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an AUMF related to the Middle East into law. (The text of the 1957 AUMF , H.J.Res. 117, is available here.) Only a couple of months before, Eisenhower had requested that Congress approve the AUMF “to deter Communist armed aggression in the Middle East area.” The AUMF, as Eisenhower said, would be “extended only in response to requests from Middle Eastern governments,” but the AUMF, writes Matthew Waxman, is “perhaps the most open-ended force resolution in American history,” and it still remains on the books.

The 1991 AUMF was passed by Congress in response to the aggression of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose forces invaded Kuwait several months before. President George H.W. Bush sought the AUMF to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 678, as well as implement several other Security Council resolutions. Like the 1957 AUMF, the 1991 AUMF, H.J.Res. 77, was open-ended and remains law 30 years after it was passed.

The 2002 AUMF, H.J.Res. 114, was passed at the request of President George W. Bush, who claimed that Iraq not only had chemical weapons but was actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Although Iraq did once have and use chemical weapons, the claims of chemical weapons in the prelude to the 2003 Iraq War turned out to be greatly exaggerated while the threat of nuclear weapons was completely false. Civilian deaths since 2003 range between 185,000 to nearly 209,000. More than 4,900 coalition soldiers have died in Iraq, 93 percent of whom were American. But again, the AUMF is still in effect almost 20 years later. (Over in the Senate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has introduced S.J.Res. 10 to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs against Iraq.)

The Outdated AUMF Repeal Act simply repeals these three AUMFs.

Post-9/11 Wars Cost $6.4 Trillion

ProgramCost (Billions)
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Appropriations$2,090
Estimated Interest on Borrowing for OCO Appropriations$925
War-Related Spending in DOD Base Budget$903
Medical and Disability for Post-9/11 War Veterans$437
Homeland Security Spending on Terrorism Prevention and Response$1,054
Estimated Future Obligations for Veterans Medical and Disability$1,000
TOTAL$6,409
Source: Neta C. Crawford, “United States Budgetary Costs and Obligations of Post-9/11 Wars through FY2020: $6.4 Trillion,” Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs’ Costs of War Project, November 2019

The motives of Gallagher, Golden, Meijer, and Spanberger are pretty clear. They want to restore Congress’s role in the question of war and peace. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution makes it quite clear that only Congress has the power to declare war. The late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) once decried having “535 commanders in chief.” McCain, always a war hawk, was one of few who could speak with authority on military matters and still get it completely wrong. (It’s also noteworthy that Gallagher, Golden, and Meijer each served in the military and were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq or both while Spanberger served in the Central Intelligence Agency.)

In 1793, James Madison explained the importance of this, writing, “In no part of the Constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture of heterogeneous powers: the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man: not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.”

The Executive Branch, with the President as commander-in-chief, may direct soldiers in the course of a war, but Congress has to authorize military action. Sure, the War Powers Resolution (WPR) does give the Executive Branch some latitude to respond militarily, but the WPR has also been misused by the Executive Branch since it became law in 1973. (The abuse of the WPR is a blog post for another time.)

Unfortunately, the Outdated AUMF Repeal Act doesn’t repeal the 2001 AUMF against Afghanistan and al-Qaeda. That omission is notable. However, Rep. Barbara Lee (R-CA) has introduced H.R. 255, which would repeal the 2001 AUMF. Like the Outdated AUMF Repeal Act, H.R. 255 has bipartisan support, with Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) joining as the only Republican co-sponsors. Repeal of the 2001 AUMF is more controversial, but this particular resolution has been interpreted broadly, allowing the Executive Branch to use it to justify military operations in more than a dozen countries, possibly as many as 19, perhaps even more.

Although it may seem like nothing good can come out of the 117th Congress, restoring congressional war powers may be one thing Congress can get done. There’s bipartisan support for it, as evidenced by the votes on the Yemen and Iran resolutions in the 116th Congress. All that’s needed is a vote and an outpouring of demand from constituents to bring H.R. 2014, as well as H.R. 255, to the House floor for a vote.

Jason

Policy wonk. Nonserious musician. Playstation ID: JaseLP22

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