The news that President Obama plans to send 1,500 more troops into Iraq, coupled with his intention to seek expanded war authority from Congress, is a direct violation of his promises. Despite his lofty rhetoric about ending wars, he instead will be doubling down on the failed counterterrorism policies of the past thirteen years and preserving unchecked war powers for himself and for future presidents. The solution is clear – Congress must take away the President’s blank check for war. 

Immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress nearly unanimously passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (“AUMF”). This vague resolution handed the president nearly unlimited authority, turning issues of war into essentially a one-man decision. This is bad law and bad policy, and has gone on long enough. Before the conversation about new authorization for war in Iraq and Syria even begins, legislators should repeal the 2001 AUMF. There are several reasons why:

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First, it does not make sense either legally or politically to give the President new authority without first repealing the old one. Before beginning this most recent bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Obama administration claimed not to need congressional authorization because its actions were covered by the 2001 AUMF.  It seems illogical, then, to ask Congress to now debate and pass new legislation to authorize a war that is already happening. Some have indicated a desire to narrow the President’s authority by passing legislation with tight restrictions – but that will have no practical effect as long as the catch-all 2001 AUMF remains available. Any new authorization will simply be a re-affirmation and expansion of authority that’s already too broad.

Second, the risk posed by keeping the current AUMF far outweighs any risk caused by its repeal. Many protest that removing the current law and re-opening the question for debate in Congress could result in war authorization that is even broader than what currently exists. It is difficult to imagine such a scenario, given the seemingly infinite bounds of the current AUMF.  In addition to its already vague text, which authorizes force against perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks, it has been interpreted to also target “associated forces” – a group that is ill-defined, stretches across the globe, and apparently even includes American citizens. Essentially, the AUMF in its present form allows for war against anyone, any place, and at any time – all within the president’s discretion.

This leads to the third reason to repeal the AUMF – its existence has destroyed the structural separation of war powers, which was specifically put in place by the Founders to avoid this very situation. In the words of James Madison, “The Constitution supposes what history demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch most prone to war and most interested in it, therefore the Constitution has with studied care vested that power in the Legislature.” How far the United States has drifted from this principle! The overstretched, outdated AUMF has allowed Congress to completely abrogate its constitutional duty to authorize each war. This allows Congress to abstain from politically difficult votes, and to criticize the President when things go wrong without actually doing anything to remedy the policies. There are only 126 Members of Congress remaining who originally voted to pass the AUMF – surely the other Members should be required to weigh in at some point, and that will not happen as long as the AUMF remains in effect.

The fourth and last reason to repeal the AUMF is simply because the policies it has produced do not work. These policies include thirteen years of military action across the globe, along with an endless stream of drone strikes in civilian communities outside defined battle zones. They also include indefinite detention, torture, enhanced surveillance, and the targeting of American citizens. Yet terrorist activity has only expanded, anti-American sentiment has hardened, and extremist recruitment has soared. There is no evidence to suggest that American foreign policy has in any way enhanced safety or security.

What the evidence actually shows is that, if Congress passes yet another authorization to expand the President’s war powers, it will come with its own unforeseen consequences. It will be used to justify policies that Congress never imagined. It will certainly decrease civil liberties and American security, and it will certainly fail to defeat terror. It’s time for Congress to learn from its mistakes and remove the President’s blank check for war.

Beavers is the legislative associate on militarism & civil liberties at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobby in the public interest.