Repeal the AUMF

121117 US IRAQ ISIS McINTYRE pic
Airstrikes target Islamic State positions on the edge of the Old City in Mosul, Iraq. Iraq said Saturday that its war on the ISIS is over. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana, File) Felipe Dana

Repeal the AUMF

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With the politics of the Iraq War far behind them, members of the Senate joined together this week on a bipartisan basis to repeal its authorization.

Today, only eight of the 77 senators who voted to authorize the war in October 2002 even remain in the chamber. A ninth, who currently serves as president, will have a chance to sign the repeal and end a dark and futile chapter in U.S. foreign policy.

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But before that can happen, the House must finish the job by repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force. In doing so, it will be clawing back from President Joe Biden and all future presidents at least some small part of Congress’s constitutional authority over all decisions to initiate war.

The Iraq War is long over, but this measure must still be repealed. So should its sister resolution from 2001 to justify the so-called global war on terror, which has been cited to justify multiple U.S. interventions — in Niger, Libya, Pakistan, and Syria — that had little to do with its original rationale. Unfortunately, Congress will not be taking up this latter resolution — it should move quickly to at least narrow the authority that it grants.

Still, the repeal of the 2002 AUMF is long overdue. The Iraq War is over, and the regime it sought to displace is long gone. Given that presidents are prone to seize upon any excuse to wage wars, Congress can at least remove one justification.

The Constitution entrusts Congress with the power to declare war. This was a very deliberate choice by the Founding Fathers. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, explained this in a letter to Thomas Jefferson:

“The constitution supposes, what the History of all Governments demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war in the Legislature.”

Repeal will not bring back the hundreds of thousands of civilian lives that the Iraq War cost, nor the thousands of brave servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. But it will at least help restore, in some small part, Congress’s authority to hold the nation back from unwise wars of choice. And it might also make those too eager for war think twice before supporting it.

Now the repeal measure goes to the House, where 49 Republicans joined Democrats to vote for repeal during the last Congress. There is no need for Republicans to resist change for the voters’ benefit. The Republican Party’s rank and file have already rejected the interventionist ideology of the early 21st century that led to war in Iraq. It nominated and elected a president in 2016 who had campaigned specifically against the idiocy of the Iraq War and the leaders behind it.

And indeed, idiocy it was. The Iraq War destabilized an already troubled region of the world. It gave rise to new and unpredicted terrorist threats, including ISIS and a potential nuclear threat from Shiite Iran. It practically emptied the Middle East of its Christian inhabitants, who were ruthlessly persecuted in the ensuing chaos. And to this day, the Iraq War continues to provide rhetorical justifications by despots such as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for their own aggression and belligerence. All that without even discovering or safeguarding weapons of mass destruction.

If a president wants to wage a war in the future, he must provide new and specific justifications for it that are capable of persuading Congress. No longer should presidents be allowed to rely on decades-old documents based on long-irrelevant thinking.

The House Republican majority should immediately take up and pass a repeal of the 2002 AUMF.

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