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The world is no longer fit for Sept. 11 war authorizations

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No one would argue that the world turned upside down on Sept. 11, 2001. Our perception of the world order was forever altered, based on an adversary that policy makers, the intelligence community and defense enterprise did not understand. 

In a particularly dark hour of crises, an overreaching and dangerous surrender of authority passed from the hands of the U.S. Congress and into the executive in the form of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), and its 2002 sibling, which enabled the United States to invade Iraq (again) after the initial charge into Afghanistan. The world, however, scarcely resembles the paradigm of the early 21st Century, and as such, the time to repeal the 2001/2002 AUMFs is now, and it’s more necessary than ever.

As a brief reminder, the authorizations grant the president broad, sweeping powers to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons determined [to have] planned, authorized, committed, or aided terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons; in order to prevent future international terrorism against the U.S.” The protocols for ascertaining, and indeed, proving the connections between antagonists abroad and their support, connection, or involvement with the 9/11 attacks is a façade of its former framework.

Efforts to repeal the authorizations are well documented, with lawmakers such as Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) leading the push to retrieve the long-standing autarchic war powers from executive control. On June 17, the House voted to repeal the 19-year old authorization by a 268-to-161 margin. Key members of the GOP in the Senate Foreign Affairs committee have requested to delay a committee vote until July, citing a need to review the impact of the authorization’s removal in advance of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

The 2002 AUMF has served little greater purpose over the past decade than to give sitting presidents the ability to perpetuate the forever wars of our generation, with little to no credible changes to the threat of terrorism on a global scale. As proof positive, look no further than the repeated exercise of this vague authority, usually absent the “congressionally approved” moniker, where administrations have targeted “groups” in the name of national security. After the President Bush years, President Obama expanded the limits of the both the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs under the pretense of Article II of the Constitution, using his role as commander in chief to target militant groups of the Islamic State — although the mandated 60-day window of executive authority came and went without the necessary consultation with Congress to declare war. President Trump attempted to establish ties between militant groups and the government of Iran as a way to broaden the authorizations’ horizons, with notable offensive engagements like the airstrike against Gen. Qassim Soleimani proving extrajudicial leaps in executive authority.

Keeping the theme, President Biden exercised these same powers to engage shadowy militant groups within weeks of his inauguration, and just this week authorized force against militant targets in Iraq and Syria. Despite the House vote to repeal the 2002 AUMF, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised the strikes that were clearly not the result of consultation with Congress, saying that she “looked forward to receiving and reviewing the formal notification of this operation under the War Powers Act” — post-hoc ergo propter hoc. Of course, Pelosi and then-Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) were appalled when the Trump administration conducted the war powers engagement against Soleimani, a notable and suspicious contradiction in narrative.

The AUMFs need to be repealed, if for no better reason than to correct the present façade that Congress has a role in the current construct of war-making. Presidents since the Bush administration have exercised wanton authority to perpetuate forever wars in the Middle East, and the risk of sustained autarchy in a strategic competition paradigm with adversaries like Russia and China — who would certainly enjoy exploiting cracks in the democratic foundation — is growing. Would Pelosi praise the administration if an exercise of war powers against Chinese aggression — based on tenuous connections with Middle East aggressors, or vague threats, without congressional consultation or approval — suddenly found us on war footing with an adversary capable of contending with us in open conflict?

Repealing the AUMFs is a bipartisan opportunity that Congress must seize upon, to bolster American credibility on the world stage. Regaining the most solemn of congressional duties, the exercise of war powers, is arguably the most impactful limit of executive power that lawmakers face. The U.S. is built on the belief that the power rests in the people, while the authority to engage in war-like activities currently resides largely in the hands of the president, with no oversight.

Ethan Brown is an 11-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force as a Special Operations Joint Terminal Attack controller; He is currently the senior fellow for Defense Studies at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress, a contributor to the Diplomatic Courier, and has written for the Modern War Institute (West Point), RealClearDefense, and The Hill. He can be found on twitter @LibertyStoic.

Tags authorization for use of military force Barack Obama Bob Menendez Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Donald Trump Federal government of the United States George W Bush Joe Biden Military history of the United States Nancy Pelosi War Powers Resolution

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