Kill the 2001 authorization for war

By Jerrod Laber and Lucy Steigerwald
July 19, 2017
The American Conservative

In a late-June session of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) successfully added an amendment to a Defense Appropriations Bill that would repeal the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF).

Update, 7/19: Rep. Lee Tweeted Wednesday morning that Speaker Ryan had essentially stripped her AUMF amendment from the final defense bill “in the dead of the night” Tuesday.

The passage of this amendment sent a positive signal that America’s war-making capabilities will finally be the subject of a debate, at least on the House floor. On July 12, Lee even met with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss the matter. Unfortunately, it appears that Lee’s amendment is being threatened by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has offered up a replacement bill that, instead of repealing the 2001 AUMF, would ask Congress to clarify war powers and goals.

Unsurprisingly, Lee is not satisfied with that slight improvement. Lee has objected to its powers since 2001, when the AUMF was first passed four days after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The original vote gave the president wide latitude to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” that he determined were responsible for 9/11. It passed with remarkable speed, and there were no committee hearings. Lee was the only member of either chamber of Congress to vote against the bill.

Sixteen years of interventionist foreign-policy decisions have stretched this authorization to encompass any and all uses of military force broadly connected to the War on Terror, including actions against “associated groups” related to the 9/11 terrorists. The AUMF was used to justify the invasion of Iraq (though that invasion received its own resolution), even though there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda or 9/11. Every one of the recent drone wars in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia was “authorized” by the legislation. The AUMF is the backbone of U.S. actions in Syria against the Islamic State (beyond, that is, the evergreen assertions of executive power). Special Operations forces have entered 70 percent of the world’s countries so far this year. As investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill noted in the subtitle of his best-selling book Dirty Wars, the world is indeed a battlefield, and the 2001 AUMF gets a lot of the credit for that making that a reality.

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