The U.S. launched an airstrike Friday in Iraq that killed, among others, Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who masterminded lethal attacks on Americans over the past two decades. As tensions between the U.S. and Iran rise, some in Congress are seeking to repeal existing military force authorizations on the books to force the Trump administration to seek congressional approval before using future military force.
You may be seeing this abbreviation — AUMF — a lot these days. We’ll try to explain why.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Congress passed what is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001. It gave President George W. Bush the power to take military action against the terrorists and nations he deemed responsible for those attacks.
Another military force authorization — this one specifically aimed at Iraq, then deemed a “continuing threat to the national security of the United States” — was passed in 2002.
These two authorizations remain in effect. Not everyone is OK with that. We’re not OK with that.
For some time now, LNP letter writers have been calling for the repeal of the 2001 and 2002 authorizations.
“The Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to declare war,” wrote Christine Crocamo, of West Hempfield Township, in November.
Last July, Beth Reeves, of Lancaster Township, noted in a letter to the editor that the U.S. House of Representatives had voted in favor of repealing the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
That effort, unfortunately, has gone nowhere in the Senate.
Reeves wrote that “keeping this authorization on the books is dangerous, as it leaves the American people at risk if this president or any future president decides to use it as a justification for a new war without asking for congressional approval as the Constitution demands.”
She castigated Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker, of Lancaster County, for voting against the authorization’s repeal.
In a letter last February, Thomas Latus, of Lancaster Township, quoted Founding Father James Madison: “The Constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the Legislature.”
Observed Latus: “Our past three presidents — Republican and Democratic — have proven Madison right: Executives given unchecked authority to use military force are prone to use it, even if it results in endless, pointless war.”
Latus called for Congress to “take back its power and stop this drift toward one-man rule.”
Our letter writers seem to have anticipated this moment. Perhaps because they've seen others like it.
With these authorizations on the books, Presidents Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump have felt empowered to use military force however they see fit.
However we feel about President Trump, we should be able to agree on two things:
— Iran’s murderous regime, and its state-sponsored terrorism, must be held in check, particularly in its quest to become a nuclear power.
— But any military action against Iran should be debated in Congress. Congress must reclaim its constitutionally granted war powers.
As Kevin D. Williamson wrote this week in the conservative National Review, the 2001 and 2002 military force authorizations no longer should apply.
The version of al-Qaida “responsible for 9/11 is long gone ... even if the name lives on,” Williamson noted. “Also gone is the principal actor behind the attack, Osama bin Laden, killed by U.S. forces and buried at sea. Conversely, the Tehran-backed militias (Kata’ib Hezbollah et al.) causing havoc in Iraq today — and killing Americans in the process — did not exist in 2001 or 2002. And if either AUMF was meant to include the Iranian state, then that certainly was not made explicit in the relevant texts.”
Concludes Williamson: “Congress and Congress alone has the power to declare war. The plain language of the Constitution is clear about that. If (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi wants to rein in the Trump administration ... she should reclaim that power for the legislature and guard it jealously.”
The House has tried to rein in the administration, but it needs some help from the GOP-controlled Senate. (The House passed a bipartisan amendment last summer that would have prevented federal funds from being used for military force against Iran without congressional approval; it was later spiked.)
This week, House Democrats will introduce and vote on a war powers resolution to limit the president’s military actions on Iran. The effort will be led by Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former CIA and Defense Department analyst.
Slotkin tweeted Friday that the Trump administration, “has the right to act in self-defense. But the Administration must come to Congress immediately and consult.
“If military engagement is going to be protracted — which any informed assessment would consider — the Administration must request an AUMF.”
She is right.
Thousands of American troops now are being deployed to the Middle East, a tinder box newly set afire. They — and their families — and any other service members who follow them deserve to know that the terms of their engagement have been debated and approved by Congress.
As Republican Sen. Rand Paul tweeted Friday, “A war without a Congressional declaration is a recipe for feckless intermittent eruptions of violence (with) no clear mission for our soldiers.”
And, again, the founders didn’t design our government to be a one-man show.
We’d like to think that our representatives in Congress — including Pat Toomey, who’s part of the Republican Senate majority, and Smucker — understand the job laid out for them by the founders.
They should do that job.