Biden Backs Effort In Congress To Repeal “Forever War” Authority In Iraq

On 14 June 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration made a statement announcing its support for the repeal of the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force Act (AUMF). The proposal, initiated in the United States Congress, would decrease the power the executive office possesses in declaring war, which many in Congress feel has grown too strong in recent years. 

Once used to authorize the war in Iraq, the 2002 AUMF was passed without an expiration date. Now, the Biden administration expresses its’ goal of repealing and replacing the authorization with a more “narrow and specific framework”. Importantly, it has been suggested this will better reflect the current policy goals and be organized by a more balanced structure of power. The statement was also based on the condition of the United States’ current foreign affairs, maintaining that “the United States has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis” and its repeal “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.

According to Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, who sponsored the repeal of AUMF and has long criticized the shift of war powers from the legislative to the executive branch, the 2002 authorization has acted as a series of “blank checks that stay as authorizations for any administration to use the way they see fit.” For instance, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former President Donald Trump used the authority “as a partial justification for an airstrike against an Iranian target in Iraq last year.” Furthermore, the AUMF has broadly expanded executive powers to an unprecedented degree.

The repeal of the AUMF, while long overdue, marks a critical step forward in limiting hasty and/or unnecessary war efforts. For decades, the AUMF has enabled executives to use their own discretion when it comes to making military decisions. While posed as a means of self-defence, such acts have caused extreme harm upon the affected communities and groups, offering little in the means of positive, long-lasting change. However, as talks of “replacing” the AUMF have arisen, the United States risks making a similar mistake instead of taking a more diplomatic approach to foreign conflict. Additionally, considering its anticipated replacement and other existing AUMF measures, the United States still has many more steps to take when reforming its strategies in conflict resolution.

The 2002 AUMF was originally implemented to grant former President George W. Bush the power to invade Iraq after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Yet, this authority ultimately allowed for implementation far beyond its original purpose. According to the New York Times, the 2002 AUMF was applied “in a campaign much later against the Islamic State in Iraq and for the killing of the Iranian general Qassim Suleimani last year.” In addition, without needing consent from Congress, this authorization has enabled “forever wars” that are managed primarily by the president.

President Biden’s position follows his recent withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. With the support of President Biden, the House of Representatives ultimately voted to repeal the AUMF on 17 June 2021 in a 268-161 vote. The decision is now in the hands of the Senate, whose vote has been delayed until mid-July. Furthermore, supporters of the repeal hope to address similar action with the 2001 AUMF. According to National Public Radio, the earlier authorization “was issued to allow the president to order the invasion of Afghanistan, and it has remained a key justification for military action against terrorist groups around the world.” As the measure moves to the Senate, it will be a key indicator of not only the balance of power in the United States government but also how the government interacts with its foreign adversaries.