2002 AUMF Repeal Would Be a Good Start

Supporters of keeping the U.S. at war without end don’t want their fig leaf taken away.

Mitch McConnell’s criticism of the House repeal of the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) resolution shows exactly why the resolution needs to be repealed:

The 2002 AUMF has been understood for years to apply to a variety of threats emanating from Iraq. Administrations of both parties have cited it as an important legal foundation of our fight against ISIS.

It’s been used precisely because the ISIS caliphate that stretched into Syria emanated from Iraq after President Obama’s withdrawal in 2011.

The 2002 AUMF is important in Iraq today because it provides authorities for U.S. forces there to defend themselves from a variety of real, exigent threats.

In other words, an open-ended authorization for military force has been exploited to provide legal cover for a range of activities that have nothing to do with the original reason why the resolution was approved, and supporters of keeping the U.S. at war without end don’t want their fig leaf taken away. It is because the 2002 AUMF has been used in such an absurd way that the House was right to vote for its repeal. Repealing the 2002 AUMF is not as important as getting rid of the 2001 resolution, but it is a good first step in dismantling the authorities that successive administrations have misused to keep the U.S. ensnared in unnecessary wars for the last twenty years. The U.S. shouldn’t have any troops in Iraq or Syria, and using their presence to justify keeping an awful resolution that should never have been passed is another reason why they need to be withdrawn.

The abuses of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs are perfect examples of why Congress should never again grant such broad authorizations to the president. When Congress approves an AUMF, it is not only endorsing the initial mission, but it is also opening the door to participation in any number of other conflicts that crop up later on. Once a president has an AUMF for a particular country or group, it is inevitable that one president after another will interpret that authority as expansively as possible and dare Congress to stop it. Voting for these resolutions is not so much the exercise of Congressional authority as it is an act of washing their hands of responsibility for whatever happens next. Repealing the 2002 AUMF would be a rare instance when Congress finally takes some real responsibility in matters of war and peace, but it won’t change much in practice until they scrap the 2001 AUMF, too.