Turn the page

Barbara Lee And Stephen Miles
Tuesday, Sep 19, 2023

Two decades ago, Congress failed to fully do its constitutional duty to not just vote but fully debate going to war. The good news is that in the weeks ahead, Congress will have the best chance in years to finally get it right.

Congress is on the cusp of repealing the 2002 Iraq War authorization (and an earlier authorization for the 1991 Gulf War). Earlier this year, a large bipartisan majority passed its repeal in the Senate, and there is clearly a similarly large bipartisan majority in the House to do the same. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) should put the Senate-passed bill on the floor immediately, where it will pass and go on to President Biden, who has pledged to sign it into law.

The harder work will come on the 2001 war authorization. Congress hasn’t made up its mind about how to handle the 2001 authorization for use of military force (AUMF) — and that’s OK. Publicly debating issues of war and peace is what Congress is meant to do. What is unacceptable is that we have allowed this debate to go on endlessly while an absurdly broad war authorization remains in place indefinitely, waiting to be abused and further stretched beyond its original purpose.

The Constitution intends that our nation’s default stance be peace, and that to change that requires an act of Congress. Yet today, the situation is the complete opposite, and it’s time to fix that.

If Congress cannot agree we should be at war, then we ought not to go to war.

These questions are not academic. Twenty-two years ago, Congress voted to go to war without asking how long this war would go on, where it would be fought, how it would end and if there were other means to bring the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks to justice that risked fewer unintended consequences.

Before Congress gives this or any president such awesome power again, it must ask the questions we failed to ask then and weigh the hard lessons of what has and has not worked since 2001 to genuinely increase our, and others, security.

What remains then, is how we ensure that happens. Unfortunately, Congress has shown time and time again that while some may genuinely want to debate and do the hard work of deciding what, if any, war authorizations may be necessary, far too many are happier instead to live with the status quo of our endless wars. Thankfully, there is a ready-made option to finally force Congress to do its job: repealing the 2001 war authorization with a time-limited sunset.

Without the forcing mechanism of repeal, there is no powerful incentive to ensure Congress has the debates and asks the hard questions it has so long avoided. It also gives Congress time to demand the president, as commander in chief, make clear where we are already at war, against whom, and exactly what specific authorities he would like moving forward. It can be forgiven that the president lacked this specificity in the hours after 9/11, but there is absolutely no excuse for not having it now, 22 years later.

Some will say that you cannot repeal the 2001 AUMF without already having passed a replacement. But the last two decades have shown that without first repealing the 2001 AUMF, there is no urgency to force a decision on what comes next. And while there is a possibility that, after careful consideration and thorough debate over many months, Congress may not come to agreement on a new war authorization.

But we should remember that such a possibility is exactly why the Constitution gives Congress this power. If Congress cannot agree we should be at war, then we ought not to go to war. And of course, in case of any truly imminent attack, the president would retain the right to defend the country.

Excerpted: ‘22 Years After Authorization for Endless War, It Is Time to Turn the Page’. Courtesy: