US Senate leader backs repealing ‘forever war’ authorisation

The repeal “will eliminate the danger of a future administration reaching back into the legal dustbin to use it as a justification for military adventurism,” Schumer said in remarks opening the Senate.

Friday 18/06/2021
A metal barrier protects the US Capitol in Washington. (REUTERS)
A metal barrier protects the US Capitol in Washington. (REUTERS)

WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday threw his weight behind an effort to repeal the 2002 Authorisation for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that allowed the war in Iraq, saying it would prevent “military adventurism” such as former President Donald Trump’s 2020 airstrike on a Baghdad airport.

Schumer said he supported repeal legislation due for a vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday and planned a Senate vote on a repeal sometime this year. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it would consider the AUMF repeal legislation at a meeting scheduled for next week.

Repeal “will eliminate the danger of a future administration reaching back into the legal dustbin to use it as a justification for military adventurism,” Schumer said in remarks opening the Senate.

He noted that the 2002 AUMF was one justification Trump used for a January 2020 drone strike on a Baghdad airport that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. The attack raised fears of war during the last days of the Trump administration.

“There is no good reason to allow this legal authority to persist in case another reckless commander-in-chief tries the same trick in the future,” Schumer said.

President Joe Biden’s administration said on Monday it supported the repeal effort, boosting lawmakers’ push to pull back the authority to declare war from the White House.  Democratic Senator Tim Kaine called the White House statement “an important first step in working together on war power issues.”

“The administration supports the repeal of the 2002 AUMF, as the United States has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis,” the White House said in a statement of administration policy.

It added: “Repeal of the 2002 AUMF would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”

The US Constitution gives the power to declare war to Congress. However, that authority has shifted to the president as Congress passed “forever war” AUMFs, which did not expire, such as the 2002 Iraq measure and that allowing the fight against al Qaeda and affiliates after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The War Powers Resolution, forced through by Congress in 1973 over Richard Nixon’s veto, was a way for legislators to claw back their authority following the  massive, undeclared war in Vietnam. The resolution states that “the president in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States armed force into hostilities,” and forbids troops from remaining for more than 90 days without congressional authorisation for use of military force.

A few lawmakers have pushed for years to repeal the authorisations. The current House effort is led by Democrat Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to oppose the 2001 AUMF.

The House voted in 2020 and 2019 to do away with the AUMF, but it was never taken up in the Senate, which was under Republican control.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is flanked by Senators’ Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) as he talks to reporters in Washington, June 15, 2021. (AFP)
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is flanked by Senators’ Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) as he talks to reporters in Washington, June 15, 2021. (AFP)

The latest White House statement opens the door to a likely Senate vote on repeal, as Democratic leadership apparently has been waiting for a signal from President Joe Biden’s administration.

Supporters of the repeal say the AUMF has long outlived its purpose, but opponents argue that ending such authorisation would hamstring US counterterrorism missions.

“There is no good reason to allow this legal authority to persist in case another reckless commander in chief tries the same trick in the future,” Schumer said.

Democrat senator Robert Menendez the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday in a joint statement with senators Tim Kaine (Democrat) and Todd Young (Republican) that the committee would take up legislation to repeal not only the 2002 authorisation, but also the 1991 authorisation for use of force in Iraq, which remains on the books.

The 1991 authorisation gave President George Bush the authority to use force against Iraq to enforce a series of UN Security Council resolutions passed in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The 2002 authorisation was directed against the Saddam Hussein regime as “necessary and appropriate” to “defend US national security against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and to “enforce all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”

“Repealing the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs will also send a clear diplomatic signal that the United States is no longer an adversary of Iraq, but a partner,” Young said.

The Senate and House would have to work out any differences in their bills and vote on a final product before it can go to Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

In the end, legislation terminating the 2002 authorisation will need 60 votes in an evenly divided Senate to overcome any procedural hurdles. Senator James Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he opposes the effort to terminate the authorisation.

“We used it to get Soleimani and there might be another Soleimani out there,” Inhofe said.

Republican representative Michael McCaul said he would speak against the House bill Thursday. He said a serious reform effort, “which we all agree is needed,” would have included discussions with national security leaders and a replacement to address the evolving war on terrorism.

“Democrats are playing politics with national security in an effort to taint one of President Trump’s biggest national security successes,” said McCaul, the lead Republican on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.