Congress Can End Endless War - Here’s How
Have you watched the evening news recently? If you’re anything like many Americans you’ve heard about the threat that the United States faces due to the growth of ISIS in the Middle East. They’ve beheaded American journalists. They’ve taken over Fallujah, a city in Iraq where more than 1,300 American troops were killed during the Iraq war. Honestly, it looks as though we’re about to escalate into another full out war in Middle East.
ISIS sprang to the forefront of American discourse earlier this year when the terrorist organization advanced quickly onto the Iraqi city of Mosul and while this may be the first time Americans started paying attention to ISIS the terror group has been around for some time. In fact, the terror group has been around long enough for Syria to claim it’s been warning our government about the group for years.
But that doesn’t mean it’s time to return to Iraq or bomb and drone the Middle East out of existence. In fact, many within the military and foreign policy communities dispute whether or not continual war makes us safer. A former president stated, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” This wasn’t said by President Barack Obama. Hell, this wasn’t even spoken by President Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. The President with this insight and wisdom was James Madison, the fourth President of the United States.
Why are we considering James Madison’s words in 2014? Congress is contemplating a reauthorization of the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force), which was signed into law days after the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. The law authorized the President of the United States to use force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Thirteen years later, we’re still using it to police the Middle East.
With the increased escalation of fighting in the Middle East members of Congress are calling for reauthorizing, revising, or repealing the AUMF. But revising or reauthorizing are not what we need any longer. We must repeal the AUMF as it currently stands. If you speak with members of Congress who voted for the AUMF in September of 2001, very few truly understood the far reaching impact their vote would cast. Many could not envision the unyielding authority they had just established for the Commander in Chief.
If you’re thinking, well President Obama would never want to keep the AUMF, think again. In a piece by Rosa Brooks, she writes “When Sen. John McCain asked the acting DOD General Counsel Bob Taylor whether or the 2001 AUMF could ‘be read to authorize lethal force against al Qaeda’s associated forces’ in countries such as Mali, Libya, and Syria, Taylor replied, 'On the domestic law side, yes sir.’”
When the bill was signed into law, the president’s military authority was vastly expanded, essentially handing any sitting president the broad authority to retaliate against those that were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Let’s share some facts about the past 13 years of war:
- The United States has spent over 1.5 trillion dollars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria,
- We’ve imprisoned and tortured people at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other facilities around the globe,
- We’ve sacrificed and lost close to 7,000 American lives,and
- We’ve taken the lives of at least 520,000 people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
While those statistics may be staggering they don’t stand alone. In fact, it’s the AUMF that the Administration’s legal team claims gives justification for “signature strikes” which are responsible for hundreds of deaths of innocent civilians, targeted killings of almost any terror group or potential terror group, and targeted killings of Americans overseas. But now, our enemies aren’t just nameless people in North Waziristan, Pakistan, they’re a splinter group that was once affiliated with al Qaeda.
In May of 2013, President Obama gave a speech at the National Defense University where he defended the country’s use of drones but also said he’d essentially wind down the polices that he inherited from the years after 9/11. As James Traub states in his piece Repeal and Restore, “In every supremely lawyered syllable, Obama was saying: It’s not war anymore...If the United States is no longer at war, the president doesn’t need extraordinary war powers.”
However, here we are over a year later still waiting for the use of force to be repealed. With the war hawks in Congress salivating over another war and President Obama’s legacy on the line it looks like he’d rather pursue an unending war than give in to congressional oversight. Elias Groll remarked that “a senior administration official said Obama’s legal justification for taking military action against the Islamic State (ISIS) relied, in part, on the 2001 AUMF that the president spoke of eliminating just 14 months ago.”
Since the AUMF has now become the legal rationale for any military action, we must push for repeal. Instead of writing another blank check to our commander in chief, it’s time we allowed the War Powers Resolution of 1973 to guide our international conflicts. Just because we can use lawyer speak to get around congressional approval, doesn’t mean it makes us any friends. It definitely doesn’t make us any safer.
Demand that Congress repeal the AUMF. It may be our only hope.