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Senate Rejects Amendment To Repeal AUMFs Authorizing The Bush-Obama-Trump Forever Wars

Afghanistan Troops

The Senate has rejected a bipartisan effort to repeal the Authorizations of Military Force that Congress passed to authorize the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq:

WASHINGTON — Nearly 16 years to the day after Congress first authorized a military response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Senate on Wednesday rejected an effort to repeal the virtual blank check that Congress granted to the president while smoke still rose from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

The debate pitted the Republican Party’s ascendant isolationist wing, represented by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, against its old-line interventionists, led by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is pressing his vision of a muscular military even as he battles brain cancer.

Mr. Paul pressed for the repeal vote, in a strange bedfellows alliance with Senator Tim Kaine, the Virginia Democrat who was his party’s vice-presidential nominee last year. But the effort failed when senators voted 61 to 36 to set the measure aside, rather than include it in the annual defense policy bill that senators are considering this week.

“What we have today is basically unlimited war — war anywhere, anytime, any place on the globe,” Mr. Paul told his colleagues in a speech Tuesday afternoon on the Senate floor. “I don’t think anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty believes these authorizations allow current wars we fight in seven countries.”

Mr. Paul had proposed repealing the declaration in six months, to give lawmakers time to consider a new one. The issue has been around since 2015, when President Barack Obama asked Congress to replace the authorization of military force passed to battle Al Qaeda with a new one crafted specifically to take on the Islamic State.

But so far Congress has balked, declining to take on the difficult issue even as lawmakers such as Mr. Kaine insist that the legislative branch should reclaim its constitutional duty to declare war.

In the House, in another unlikely partnership, Representative Barbara Lee, the California Democrat who was the only member of the House to vote against the original resolution in 2001, paired up with Representative Scott Taylor, a freshman Virginia Republican and former Navy SEAL, over the summer to convince the Appropriations Committee to insert language repealing the original use of force declaration into a spending bill.

“I just felt compelled to stand up and say, now it’s time to look at the AUMF,” Mr. Taylor said, using the acronym for the authorization for the use of military force. He said once he spoke up, other Republicans joined in to support him: “It’s an issue that I don’t think is going to go away.”

But Republican leaders stripped the provision out of the spending measure; Speaker Paul D. Ryan said at the time that the move was a “mistake” and that such language was not appropriate for inclusion in a spending measure.

“It was really shameful,” Ms. Lee said in an interview. “The Constitution requires us to do our job and debate the costs of war.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, argued strongly against repealing the military force authorization, saying that ending the authority the president relies on to fight the Islamic State would create only confusion within the armed forces.

“We have an all volunteer force that protects all of us and fights for us,” Mr. McConnell told his Senate colleagues, adding, “We cannot break faith with these men and women by removing the authority they rely on to pursue the enemy.”

Wednesday’s vote cleared the way for the Senate to begin work on a massive $700 billion defense policy bill, championed by Mr. McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The bipartisan defense bill, approved by the Armed Services Committee on a unanimous 27-0 vote, is considered a must-pass piece of legislation — in part because the annual measure has been approved by Congress each year for more than half a century, and in part this year for sentimental reasons; it is deeply important to Mr. McCain.

The defense measure sets forth Mr. McCain’s interventionist vision of America’s role in the world — a vision very different than that of the isolationist Mr. Paul, or President Trump. It includes $37 billion more in funding for the Pentagon than Mr. Trump asked for, authorizes $500 million to provide “security assistance,” including weapons, to Ukraine; $100 million to help Baltic nations “deter Russian aggression” and $705 million for Israeli cooperative missile defense programs — $558.5 million more than the administration’s request.

Even though Senator Paul won somewhat of a surprising victory yesterday when he was able to force a vote on his Amendment, it was clear from the start that there was no way it was going to pass the Senate, and that it wouldn’t face any better of a fate than the parallel measure did earlier this year in the House even if it did somehow manage to pass the Senate. For the past decade and a half, if not longer, Congress has largely neglected the oversight and monetary powers that the Constitution gives it notwithstanding the fact that the President is designated as Commander in Chief. As a result, we’ve seen President after President take advantage of Congressional inaction and neglect to vastly expand America’s military commitments abroad, often in ways that have worked against American national interests. The most recent example of this, of course, occurred in the Obama Administration

The most recent example of this, of course, occurred in the Obama Administration on two occasions. The first, of course, occurred when the United States joined Great Britain and France in intervening in the Libyan civil war and set in motion a chain of events that led to the downfall of Muammar Gadaffi’s more than forty year rule in that country. In that place, we’ve seen much of Libya turn into a chaotic no-man’s land ruled by no central authority that has become a breeding ground for rebels and Islamist terrorists, including forces that are allied with either al Qaeda or ISIS. Additionally, the chaos has been the source of a refugee crisis that continues to affect southern Europe to this day. The second is the intervention in Iraq and Syria involving both the fight against ISIS and the effort to assist rebels fighting the regime of Bashar Assad. In the case of the military effort against ISIS, the Obama Administration has claimed that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was nearly unanimously passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks is sufficient legal justification for the war against ISIS. However, as I noted at the time, the legal argument in favor of this proposition is flimsy at best and it seems clear that without clear Congressional authorization the war against ISIS that President Obama started, and which President Trump seems intent on expanding, at the very least exists in a legal gray area and may be entirely illegal. As Senator Kaine put it today on the Senate floor, ”[t]he current interpretation of the authorization essentially allows an American president, without any approval from Congress, to wage war anywhere against any terrorist groups for however long they want to.” This is an absurd and dangerous state of affairs that any responsible Congress would not permit to continue.

While most of the Senate and House has chosen to ignore these facts, some members have tried to get Congress to act. Senators Paul and Kaine, who were involved in the consideration of this latest attempt, have both tried to force a vote on this issue in the past. They have also been at the forefront of efforts to get Congress to debate and vote on a new AUMF that would specifically cover the war against ISIS and perhaps would include some kind of greater oversight role for Congress in line with what the Constitution intended. These calls have largely fallen on deaf ears, although it was somewhat encouraging that more than one-third of the Senate voted in favor of this Amendment. As both Senators have argued, it seems clear that Congress never intended either AUMF based in the early years of the Bush Administration, long before the Islamic State, ISIS, or whatever one chooses to call it, ever existed. Additionally, it is noteworthy to point out, as Senator Paul has this week, that most of the members of Congress who voted for the AUMF authorizing war against al Qaeda and the AUMF authorizing war against Iraq aren’t even in Congress anymore. The idea that they ever intended to bind the nation to a war that would last nearly two decades and which shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

As many observers have pointed out, we are sadly now at the point where children who were born after the September 11th attacks will soon be eligible to join the military and be sent off to fight in the same war that their fathers and mothers were. It’s absurd to believe that Congress ever intended this state of affairs, but their inaction, combined with Presidential presumptions about the extent of Executive Branch power, has allowed this to happen. Unfortunately, with the rejection of this amendment, Congress will continue to neglect its responsibilities and the forever war will continue.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    That’s pathetic. No president should have blanket authority to wage war wherever he or she wants for as long as he or she cares to. That turns the Constitution on its head.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  2. I agree completely Dave.

    Unfortunately, thanks to Congressional inaction and Presidential presumption that is precisely the situation we find ourselves in.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I want someone to ask McConnell how it would “create confusion among the armed forces”. How would that work? Are they complete idiots? Would they wander around the camps questioning where they were and how they got there? Seriously, McConnell needs a smack upside the head.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  4. Davebo says:

    The bipartisan defense bill, approved by the Armed Services Committee on a unanimous 27-0 vote

    The one thing everyone in DC can agree on. Pentagon pork.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. Davebo says:

    The bipartisan defense bill, approved by the Armed Services Committee on a unanimous 27-0 vote

    The one thing everyone in DC can agree on. Pentagon pork.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. James Pearce says:

    These calls have largely fallen on deaf ears, although it was somewhat encouraging that more than one-third of the Senate voted in favor of this Amendment.

    Why is it “encouraging” that one-third of the Senate voted in favor of this Amendment?

    Doesn’t that mean a supermajority voted against it? I don’t find that encouraging at all.

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  7. Jack says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    No president should have blanket authority to wage war wherever he or she wants for as long as he or she cares to-except Obama.

    FIFY

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  8. @James Pearce:

    Honestly, I would have expected that only a handful of Senators would have voted in favor of this measure.

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  9. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Honestly, I would have expected that only a handful of Senators would have voted in favor of this measure.

    I can understand that.

    Saw this quote from Dick Durbin which might explain why the vote failed: “Little did I realize having cast that vote, 15 or 16 years ago, that I wasn’t just voting to go after the terrorists responsible for 9/11. I was voting for the longest war in the history of the united States of America, a war that continues to this day in Afghanistan.”

    He’s one of 22 Senators who were able to vote on the original AUMF. Moar turnover!

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  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    Congress has been shunning its responsibility regarding war powers since the end of WWII. No reason for them to start being responsible now.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. Davebo says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Truth.

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  12. R. Dave says:

    I don’t know; I feel like this amendment was designed to fail. Of course a bill that ends the existing AUMF without simultaneously replacing it with another one isn’t going to pass. That essentially turns it into a vote on whether or not to continue the current conflicts rather than a vote on whether or not to reassert Congress’s proper role. I suspect the latter has broader, more bipartisan support than the former, so if restoring the Constitutional balance is the priority – which it should be – the bill should have (i) revised the current AUMF to cover our current conflicts, (ii) required periodic re-authorization with a long tail period to withdraw if it isn’t re-authorized, and (iii) an express statement of Congressional prerogatives on declarations of war.

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  13. al-Ameda says:

    @Jack:

    No president should have blanket authority to wage war wherever he or she wants for as long as he or she cares to-except Obama.

    EVERY president, yes, including Obama, will gladly accept the powers that Congress abdicates from and cedes to the Executive.

    You’ve got to let go Jack, and start seeing things from practical reality-based standpoint. I understand how hard that is for the Right these days, but this issue is a good place to start.

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  14. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @al-Ameda: More importantly related to Jack, Trump was against the continuation of military operations in the ME until he got elected. Now, he’s just another chicken hawk (probably in more ways than one).

    ReplyReply

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