End, Don’t Mend, the AUMF
There are fresh murmurings in official Washington that the Biden administration and some congressional leaders want to “update” the 20-year-old congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to better meet the needs of today’s security needs.
According to the White House, an update would replace the existing AUMF with “a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”
Fair enough. Congress has all but abdicated its constitutional role in deploying American forces, successive presidents to use the same force authorization passed in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks.
But passing new, improved AUMF will not prevent the forever wars or other overseas adventurism. Instead of reforming the aged AUMF, abolish it, and in the process, take away a president’s ability to unilaterally and indefinitely commit U.S. forces to a foreign conflict based on decades-old rationales.
Back in 2018, Cato’s Gene Healy argued for a “war powers reset” that would “restor[e] America’s default setting to peace, not war.”
That’s where any discussion of a new, or even slimmed-down, AUMF must begin. As Healy noted:
We’re told that we face grave threats from emerging terrorist groups. But when the Framers crafted the Constitution, they lived in a pretty bad neighborhood. The United States was a small frontier republic on the edge of a continent occupied by periodically hostile great powers and Indian marauders. There were grave threats and dangers, and, nonetheless, our first president George Washington wasn’t sure that he had the authority to take offensive action against hostile Indian tribes without authorization from Congress.
When the Framers made the decision to limit the amount of war power that one person could exercise, I think you could argue that the threats were somewhat greater than they are today.
Committing U.S. forces to combat should be politically difficult – perhaps even career-ending. Eliminating the aged AUMFs is a start to bringing an end to the forever wars the Biden administration and some in Congress say they want to do.
Image Credit: Christiaan Triebert [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]