The long march to end forever wars
President Joe Biden is back to bombing parts of the Middle East — Syria, this time — continuing a decades-long, bipartisan tradition of American presidents lobbing explosives, and much more, into foreign nations.
Biden did this without benefit of an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), the congressional grant of power that gives a legal patina to an executive’s adventurism. Biden said he had all the power he needed to bomb whomever he wanted thanks to Article II of the Constitution.
That’s the bad news. But as Cato’s Gene Healy writes, there was a bit of good news, as Congress is slowly getting around to cleaning up the stray, and very old, AUMF’s Biden’s predecessors used for some of their military operations:
Two weeks ago, the House voted to repeal the now nearly two-decade oldcongressional resolution that authorized George W. Bush to take out Saddam Hussein. On Tuesday, it passed resolutions revoking the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that empowered Bush senior to wage the Gulf War some 30 years ago, as well as an Eisenhower-era AUMF aimed at protecting the Middle East from “armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism.”
That’s all to the good: even if these long-moribund AUMFs have no plausible current use, there’s always the danger that a future president will concoct one as cover for new foreign adventures. And you’ve got to start somewhere, after all.
But there’s still a great deal of work for Congress to do in this area:
…they’d need to keep repealing old authorizations until they hit the one that really matters: the 2001 AUMF, which over the past two decades has been transformed into an enabling act for far-flung, seemingly endless war. Unfortunately, the war powers debate on the Hill gives us reason to wonder whether they’re up to the task.
Consider the ongoing fight over the 2002 Iraq War resolution. It’s been more than 18 years since George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech, nearly 15 years since Saddam was frogmarched to the gallows, and over a decadesince President Obama announced the end of the Iraq War. Two weeks ago, in a statement supporting the House bill, the Biden administration confirmed that the 2002 AUMF is unnecessary for any “ongoing military operations.”
This ought to be the easy part of war powers reform. It’s a freebie—a solid opportunity for legislators to show their profile and feign courage without worrying they’ll be accused of abandoning Our Troops—because, alas, they’re not going anywhere.
The Endless War Caucus has and will bray that repealing any geriatric AUMF will signal a U.S. retreat from the world, and serve as an invitation to mayhem. Those old AUMFs haven’t prevented mayhem from sprouting wherever it will. And none of the current efforts at repeal will bring a single service member home:
To change the facts on the ground, Congress would need to repeal–and not replace–the authorization that really matters, and on which current operations depend: the 2001 AUMF. No current threat remotely justifies our continuing presence in Iraq and Syria, much less roving presidential authority to wage war on multiple continents. To end the Forever War, end the Forever Authorization.
The sooner the better — not just to bring those troops home, but also to restore a critical constitutional check on war. If we must fight, then Congress can’t be allowed to duck its responsibility for giving the explicit go-ahead to fight.