Congress May Repeal Iraq AUMF

A meaningless gesture that's long overdue.

NPR’s Claudia Grisales reportsCongress Is Poised To Take Back Some Of Its War Powers From The President.” Alas, the “some” is doing a lot of work in the headline.

The U.S. House on Thursday will move to repeal a nearly two-decade-old war powers measure, marking what many lawmakers hope will be the beginning of the end of wide-ranging authorities given to the president after the 9/11 terror attacks.

California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee — who in 2001 and 2002 voted against two war power measures passed in the wake of 9/11 — will see one of her repeal bills take center stage. The plan would end the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, that greenlighted then-President George W. Bush’s plans to invade Iraq.

It’s less clear whether it has the votes to pass the Senate but it has the support of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and, with a Democrat in the White House for the next four years, it’s quite conceivable enough Republicans will go along to take the filibuster off the table.

As Grisales’ report notes, the 2001 AUMF, which has been broadly interpreted to allow strikes against terrorist networks, is still in effect and there seems to be less momentum for overturning it. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it, too, goes.

That still leaves the 1973 War Powers Resolution. While intended to curtail the Imperial Presidency that arose under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, it has had the opposite effect, as Presidents have interpreted it (in clear violation of its actual language) as carte blanche to take whatever military action they’ve deemed necessary for a period of 90 days. And President Obama even ignored the 90 day limitation in his Libya operation, simply proclaiming that the military actions being undertaken under his orders didn’t count.

The consequences for all this? Nada.

The fact of the matter is that the Constitution’s “invitation to struggle” over military affairs became unbalanced with the advent of a permanent, large standing military during the Cold War. The Congressional power to declare war is largely moot. And, more significantly, the incredible power behind the stipulation that only Congress can “raise an Army” and “maintain a Navy” is irrelevant when there’s a massive force-in-being. The President, as commander-in-chief, can simply issue orders without having to go to Congress to ask them for money to build up that force.

Congress should still claw back whatever power it can and it makes sense to repeal these two AUMFs. But, realistically, unless they’re going to punish Presidents for going around them in sending our forces into harm’s way, they’ve ceded most of their war powers.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Slugger says:

    The AUMF passed with almost no opposing votes. Our elected government is readily bamboozled into such actions without serious thought and debate. Likewise, a generation before our government passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution with almost no dissent. We are all schooled in the idea of a representative legislature weighing pros and cons and allowing many voices to be heard, but the reality is very different from that ideal. I don’t know how to fix this.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    A highly professionalized standing army plus the fear factor of ICBMs, and the realities of post WW2 mechanized warfare – the Russians could send tanks into Estonia before we could assemble a quorum, let alone hold hearings and a vote. Add in the fact that there are defense industries in every state and just about every Congressional district, so in effect a lot of Congress profits politically.

    On those occasions when we have the leisure to ask for an AUMF any pushback is immediately attacked as unpatriotic. I suppose that could change, but so long as no one is being drafted even the voters don’t seem overly concerned.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    @Slugger:..our government passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution with almost no dissent.

    Never forget these names:

    It was opposed in the Senate only by Senators Wayne Morse (D-OR) and Ernest Gruening (D-AK). Senator Gruening objected to “sending our American boys into combat in a war in which we have no business, which is not our war, into which we have been misguidedly drawn, which is steadily being escalated”.(Tonkin Gulf debate 1964) The Johnson administration subsequently relied upon the resolution to begin its rapid escalation of U.S. military involvement in South Vietnam and open warfare between North Vietnam and the United States.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    “sending our American boys into combat in a war in which we have no business, which is not our war, into which we have been misguidedly drawn, which is steadily being escalated”

    Thank God, we didn’t listen to him. We wouldn’t have that cool black wall with all the names on it.