News & Politics

Biden Will Back Repeal of Authorizations for Use of Military Force

Jae C. Hong

President Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to repeal congressional authorizations for military force that are decades old and replace them with a less expansive, more targeted authorization in order to end the “forever wars” the U.S. is involved in.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told Politico that the president wants to “ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers will introduce a bill later this week that would repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force and one passed in 1991 ahead of the first Iraq War.

Senators proposed the measure amid bipartisan anger over Biden’s decision to launch retaliatory airstrikes against Iran-backed militia groups in Syria last week without first seeking congressional approval. The operation frustrated many of Biden’s allies on the Hill and renewed longstanding concerns among Democrats and Republicans alike that Congress has abdicated its constitutional role in declaring war and authorizing military operations.

“Tim Kaine has been a leader on questions of war powers throughout his time in the Senate,” Psaki said in her statement, “and has helped build a strong bipartisan coalition that understands the importance of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.”

A spokesperson for Kaine said the senator “is already in bipartisan discussion with his colleagues and the administration.”

The questions raised by repealing the 2002 AUMF are very serious because they deal with conflicts in Yemen, Somalia, southern Africa, Nigeria, and Syria — places where American troops are deployed to combat the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations that threaten U.S. allies in the region. Barack Obama used the 2002 AUMF as a legal basis for the deployments despite some in Congress questioning its legality. Without that legal framework, would Biden pull out of those hotspots?

The problem isn’t the legality of sending troops to war. It’s the judgment of the commander-in-chief. How many of those terrorists directly threaten the people or the sovereign territory of the U.S. and should a president commit the blood and treasure of the United States to combat the threat?

But unlike in previous administrations, the Pentagon did not cite any of the previous war authorizations as the legal justifications for the Syria strikes, signaling it plans to pursue a different approach.

Instead, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby pointed to Article II of the Constitution, which grants the commander-in-chief “not only the authority but the obligation to protect American forces,” as well as Article 51 of the United Nations charter, which grants members the right to self defense.

Is the best way to protect American forces to pull them out and bring them home? Only the commander-in-chief can decide that and that’s why it’s imperative that Congress thread the needle and allow for an advisory role while maintaining the president’s authority.

I don’t trust Congress to get it right and I don’t trust Biden to safeguard the powers of the commander-in-chief. The world is entering a volatile period where conflicts are going to intensify and multiply. You want America to use its enormous power judiciously and for good reasons.

Tying the president’s hands too tightly so that he has to ask permission of Congress for every military deployment would risk disaster.