A bipartisan group of lawmakers want to finally start reining in the Global War on Terrorism

Is this finally the end of the 2002 AUMF?
Jared Keller Avatar
global war on terrorism
A Special Forces Soldier conducts weapons training with partner forces on a range in Southwest Asia, Sept. 2, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kyle Alvarez)

The U.S. military’s Global War on Terrorism may be heating up again on distant battlefields, but a bipartisan group of American lawmakers at home is pushing to rein in the ever-expanding global campaign by repealing part of its legislative foundation.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN), joined by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chip Roy (R-TX), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Tom Cole (R-OK), introduced new legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs), formally ending the Gulf and Iraq Wars and “reassert Congress’ Constitutional role in deciding whether and when to send our servicemembers into harm’s way,” the lawmakers said in a statement on Thursday.

“Congress is responsible for both declaring wars and ending them because decisions as important as whether or not to send our troops into harm’s way warrant careful deliberation and consensus,” said Kaine in a statement. “The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs are no longer necessary, serve no operational purpose, and run the risk of potential misuse. Congress owes it to our servicemembers, veterans, and families to pass our bill repealing these outdated AUMFs and formally ending the Gulf and Iraq wars.”

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While the 2002 AUMF in particular allowed then-President George W. Bush to order the invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, it is vaguely worded to give presidents the authority to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.” 

Because that threat was not limited solely to Saddam, the 2002 AUMF has since morphed into a blank check for counter-terror operations around the world. President Barack Obama initially invoked the 2002 AUMF to order airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria in 2014, a justification which, according to the State Department, President Donald Trump also seized upon to authorize U.S. troops in Somalia and Yemen to combat ISIS forces there in 2017, as well as the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in 2020.

Advocates for the repeal of the 2002 AUMF argue that Congress has abdicated its responsibility to formally declare war as detailed in the Constitution and should reassert that responsibility in order to better define the borders and boundaries of the legislatively amorphous Global War on Terrorism with more robust and specific war powers.

“Voting on decisions of war and peace is a fundamental and constitutional responsibility for Members of Congress,” said Rep. Spanberger in the statement. “We must be accountable to the American people and cannot abdicate this responsibility to open-ended AUMFs that give too much power to a President and don’t require Congress to take consequential votes.”

In a statement to the Washington Post, a National Security Council official said that President Joe Biden supports repealing the 2002 AUMF (as well as the 1991 AUMF that authorized the Gulf War), but implied that most military operations currently underway rely on the separate 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks to authorized the invasion of Afghanistan.

“The United States has no ongoing military activities that rely solely or primarily on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis, and repeal of the 2002 AUMF would not impact current counterterrorism operations,” the NSC told the Washington Post. “There are no current military operations that rely on the 1991 AUMF.”

Legislation addressing the overreaches of the 2002 AUMF has been gaining traction in Congress in recent years. In 2021, a bipartisan House majority even voted 268-161 in support of repealing the measure, a move the Biden administration even endorsed due to the lack of impact on ongoing counterterror operations. However, the Senate’s own counter-AUMF measure died amid a last-minute push to pass that year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which ommitted the legislation entirely. The legislative situation essentially repeated itself the following year. As Just Security put it, the “zombie” AUMF staggers on, now approaching two decades old.

“Three presidents have come and gone since Congress last voted to authorize a US invasion of Iraq over twenty years ago; a fourth is now in office,” said Rep. Lee in a statement. “Yet the legacy of these horrific forever wars lives on in the form of the now-obsolete 2002 and 1991 AUMFs.”

The push to repeal the 2002 and 1991 AUMFs is really just a warm up for a repeal of the 2001 AUMF that’s allowed every president over the past two decades to wage war without congressional approval. Indeed, Kaine introduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate to update the 2001 AUMF in 2018, and Lee led the House Appropriations Committee over several years to approve a sunsetting of the 2001 AUMF in the NDAA, although the measures never ended up making it into the final legislation.

“Repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs for the Gulf and Iraq Wars is long overdue and I am proud this Congress is asserting Congress’ constitutionally granted powers,” said Rep. Cole. “Not only does this reflect Congress’ continuing oversight of our national security interests, it also executes this body’s fundamental responsibility to manage use of force authorities of past, current and future presidents.”

Repealing the 2002 AUMF may allow Congress to reassert itself in the war-declarations process, but based on the NSC’s own comments, the big fish for truly reining in Global War on Terror is the 2001 AUMF. Until that authorization is repealed, the legal basis for America’s “forever wars’ will remain intact.

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