After 20 years of sitting on its palms and largely ceding its personal authority to the chief department, might or not it’s potential that Congress is now exhibiting spine and reasserting itself on issues of warfare and peace? The reply, however the most recent developments, is “to be determined.”
On the one hand, final week’s vote within the House of Representatives to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) in opposition to Iraq exhibited a newfound seriousness on this challenge. As lawmakers on either side of the aisle have since acknowledged, the 18-year-old decision was conjured up at a distinct time and beneath very completely different circumstances. Crafted to sort out the supposed nationwide safety risk Iraq’s Saddam Hussein offered to the United States (I exploit the phrase “supposed” as a result of the now-deceased tin-pot dictator hardly warranted an costly and completely counterproductive invasion and occupation of a complete nation), the 2002 AUMF has languished like an outdated baseball participant who refuses to retire. The reality the repeal was handed by such a big margin (given the divided nature of immediately’s Washington, 268-161 is a blowout) reveals the extent to which lawmakers have soured on it.
As a sensible matter, Congress is starting to acknowledge that protecting outdated resolutions on the books makes little sense and in reality can have unintended penalties. While it is actually true that repealing the 2002 AUMF is the bottom hanging fruit out there—some have suggested final week’s vote was largely a symbolic train—these on Capitol Hill accountable for the hassle are additionally satisfied that failing to kill the decision would theoretically give President Joe Biden and any president who succeeds him with a possibility to abuse it in a future contingency.
It’s not a loopy argument, for abuse like this has occurred earlier than. In 2014, the Obama administration justified the navy marketing campaign in opposition to the Islamic State partly on the 2002 AUMF, which was written over a decade earlier than ISIS even existed as a company. The Trump administration did one thing comparable in 2020, making the mind-boggling case in a formal letter to Congress that the 2002 decision coated the operation in opposition to Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani close to the Baghdad International Airport. Lawmakers on the time have been so aghast on the reasoning that the House and Senate passed a resolution prohibiting any additional navy motion in opposition to Iran with out the specific approval of Congress (Trump would go on to veto the decision).
If previous presidents have been keen to stretch the 2002 AUMF to a comically absurd degree, it is the peak of delusion to imagine future presidents would not do the identical factor. If there’s something latest historical past has demonstrated, it is that the chief department (no matter who staffs it at any given time) is an inherently expansionist institution. If it could get away with claiming extra energy for itself on the expense of different branches, it’s going to haven’t any hesitation doing so.
Architects of the 2002 repeal invoice within the House are gleaming with pleasure. The actual check, nevertheless, is the 2001 AUMF, the 60-word authorization handed a number of days after the 9/11 terrorist assaults which has since been levied by 4 consecutive presidents as a sort of magic-wand for the post-9/11 terrorism wars. From Syria and Libya to the Philippines, the chief department effortlessly factors to the 2001 AUMF every time a lawmaker has the nerve to query why U.S. troops are performing coaching, advising, and/or bombing missions midway world wide. According to the Congressional Research Service, a number of U.S. administrations have cited the 2001 AUMF to elucidate operations in 14 completely different international locations—a far cry from the comparatively particular language in opposition to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban contained within the decision. Some of these coaching and advising missions, in flip, are actually smokescreens for quasi-combat missions, through which U.S. particular operations forces conduct kinetic operations within the subject alongside host-country forces. Unfortunately, Capitol Hill at massive would not have a tendency to concentrate till one thing goes horribly flawed; when 4 U.S. troops have been killed in Niger in 2017, prime lawmakers weren’t even aware the U.S. military had a presence there.
None of this begins to say the president’s Article II authority as enshrined within the U.S. Constitution. While the nation’s founders positioned the final word authority on whether or not or not the U.S. goes to warfare with the legislature, the department most instantly accountable to the American public, in addition they understood there have been conditions when the commander-in-chief wanted to defend the United States on quick discover. This, nevertheless, was reserved for extraordinary circumstances, the principal one being repelling an armed assault upon the U.S. In each different occasion, presidents needed to come to Congress with a request—and it was Congress, and Congress alone, that decided whether or not to entertain it.
In an age of government overreach, the commander-in-chief clause is now twisted into an unrecognizable pretzel. What was designed to be a slim exception is now utilized by presidents and their attorneys as a virtual blank check: Richard Nixon in Cambodia, Ronald Reagan in Libya, George H.W. Bush in Panama and Somalia, Bill Clinton in Haiti, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, Obama in Libya, Trump in Syria, Biden in Syria … all of them relied to at least one diploma or one other on an expansive interpretation of their Article II energy. With the exception of some members (Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Bernie Sanders, Tim Kaine, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee and Peter Meijer to call just a few), Congress has been much more snug enabling this conduct than doing something to problem it.
It’s far too quickly to say that final week was the start of a brand new period through which Congress reclaims its constitutionally-given warfare energy. But this a lot is for certain—till lawmakers cease offering the chief department the good thing about the doubt about when and the place to take the nation to warfare, inter-branch disputes on this challenge will proceed for a very long time to return.
Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow with the Defense Priorities suppose tank, columnist on the Washington Examiner and a contributor to The National Interest.
The views expressed on this article are the author’s personal.