- In 2002, Congress passed an Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq.
- In 2020, the AUMF was cited by the Trump administration to justify killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
- The White House on Monday announced its support for repealing the law.
- Sign up for the 10 Things in Politics daily newsletter.
When the Trump administration sought a legal justification for killing an Iranian general in Baghdad, it pointed to a measure passed by Congress more than 17 years earlier: the law that formally granted President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq.
To critics like Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, that was quite a stretch – and another example of Congress losing its authority over matters of war and peace to the White House. Now, however, a new president is backing Lee’s effort to eliminate at least one legal justification for military force.
In a statement on Monday, the Biden administration announced support for legislation that would repeal the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force Against Iraq.
“The president is committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats,” the White House said.
But it also noted that its support was made easier by the fact that no “ongoing military activities” rely “solely” on the 2002 AUMF. Indeed, it is an AUMF passed in 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, that is far more often cited to justify military actions, from Somalia to Yemen, against perceived threats to the US.
But the Biden administration is pledging to work “on repealing and replacing other existing authorizations of military force.”
In a statement to Insider, Lee – the only lawmaker to vote against the 2001 AUMF that preceded the US invasion of Afghanistan – said she is prepared to work with the administration on that.
“Our goal is to put matters of war and peace back in the hands of Congress,” she said. “President Trump used the 2002 AUMF to justify his killing of [Qassem] Soleimani,” one example of presidents from both parties using the law “to justify engaging in military conflict while sidestepping Congress.”
The 2002 AUMF has been a staple of the US-led global war on terror.
President Barack Obama, for example, cited it in 2014, to justify airstrikes against the Islamic State group and an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, an intervention that ultimately saw the US fire more artillery rounds than it did during the entire war in Vietnam. By contrast, the Obama administration insisted it could not take action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for its use of chemical weapons without a new congressional authorization.
“President Biden’s support of this legislation means that we are one step closer to not only ending forever wars but making sure that we no longer engage in them in the future without Congressional approval,” Lee added.
The Democratic-led House previously passed Lee’s repeal bill in 2020, before it languished in the Senate. It is set to vote again Monday night.