Last week, the Biden administration announced it wanted to work with Congress to repeal the 2001 and 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and replace them with a “narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.” In other words, President Joe Biden appears to want Congress to restrict the authorization under which U.S. forces are currently operating and thus constrain his own ability to order them into action. Why would he do such a thing?
A bit of background: The 2001 AUMF was passed a mere three days after the 9/11 attacks (with only one dissenting vote in the House of Representatives). It was narrowly focused on al Qaeda, and it authorized the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” The 2002 AUMF authorized the use of force to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and was in effect the green light for the George W. Bush administration’s ill-advised invasion of that country in 2003.
Unfortunately, these two laws have been stretched beyond recognition in the years since they passed. The 2001 law was originally intended to authorize military action against al Qaeda itself, but Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump invoked it to justify a wide variety of other actions, including attacks on the Islamic State (which was fighting against al Qaeda at the time) or the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Similarly, even though the war in Iraq was declared officially over in 2011, the Obama administration invoked the 2002 AUMF as an “alternative statutory basis” for the campaign against the Islamic State, and the Trump administration claimed that the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 fell under its aegis as well.
Extending congressional authorizations in this way makes a mockery of the rule of law as well as the more fundamental principle that presidents should not be able to go to war on their own or expand military actions beyond their original mandate. It makes perfect sense, therefore, for Biden to seek to replace these outmoded justifications with legislation tailored for our present circumstances and military requirements.
Read the full article in Foreign Policy.