Congress Passed the 2001 AUMF 19 Years Ago. It's Still in Effect Today.
Hey y'all, serious post today. Just three days after the terror attacks known simply by their date, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing the use of military force against those specifically responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks and those who provided aid to them. This was broadly understood to mean Al Qaeda and the Taliban. There was a separate resolution passed the following fall authorizing the same against the nation of Iraq. These twin resolutions have been used by each successive administration to justify the ongoing military operations in the Middle East and North Africa. The resolution has never been amended, despite half-hearted efforts from Congress to take back their power to decide military action.
Despite not even existing in 2001, the Obama administration argued this resolution explicitly covers the actions taken against ISIS, because ISIS was originally part of Al Qaeda. Three presidents have now used both resolutions to send troops to at least 18 countries. The Obama administration used it to justify their use of drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, and other nations, where Al Qaeda has local affiliates. They used it to support the Kurdish Peshmerga in their fight against ISIS and the Assad regime. Despite his efforts to publicly dismantle everything Obama enacted during his presidency, Donald Trump has quietly continued all of these military actions. Any actions that have been taken in Iraq have additionally cited the 2002 authorization, despite the aims of the authorization having been accomplished over a decade ago.
Now, as you hopefully remember from history class, the authority to declare war is meant to rest with Congress, as enumerated in Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution. However, the last time Congress issued a formal declaration of war was during WWII. There is room for interpretation if a formal declaration is truly required, or if the commencement of military action is sufficient as a declaration. It is no secret that in the last 50 years, each successive administration has amassed more authority for the Executive branch that should be left with the Legislative instead. This has gained particular notoriety under Trump, just because he so flagrantly disregards established norms. The United States has survived as a democracy as long as it has not just due to laws, but common human decency and trust. Trump has imperiled that.
Both of these resolutions need to be repealed. They have long outlived their initial purpose and have enabled nearly two decades of mission creep across three administrations. An entire generation has grown up with the United States being involved in combat operations in far away lands, while most people don't know anyone who has actually served. This disconnect between the all-volunteer military and the average citizen has allowed for a sense of complacency about the conflicts presidents choose to engage in. The growth in drone warfare has also driven this disconnect, as drone operators do not even need to leave the country to kill "enemy combatants", who are often innocent civilians. Never mind the generation that has grown up with a fear of clear skies, as that's when drone strikes are most likely to happen.
War has evolved and we can no longer sustain open-ended use of military force authorizations. They need to be written with explicit clarity so as to not be open to broader interpretation. There is little for the United States to maintain such an ongoing presence in the Middle East and North Africa, and specific authorizations should be made for those specific actions if they are continued. Congress needs to step up and the approval of these conflicts.