For most Americans, when Trump decided to bomb Syria a few weeks ago, no alarm bells went off. After all, whether or not you agree with the decision, it’s the President’s prerogative to take such action — even without any prior authorization from Congress required. Right?
Actually, not exactly. You may be forgiven for believing the President has this power, because it has seemed to be this way since — well, forever. The truth, as so often happens, is more complicated.
Time was, Congress retained the sole authority to declare war on another country. However, the last time Congress exercised its authority was back in 1942 — following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that marked our entry into World War II. “Wait!” you may be wondering, “What about the Korean War and the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War?” Yup, those were indeed all “wars.” But they were never declared as such. Rather, by labeling them “Extended Military Engagements,” the administration bypassed the requirement for a Congressional declaration. The difference in language may seem trivial — but it made a world of difference in Washington.
Following September 11, 2001, Congress decided that even Extended Military Engagements were not sufficient. The attack on our soil led to Congress ceding more explicit authority to the President, so he could deal with the (again, not formally declared) War on Terror. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2001 gave the President the power to use military force, without seeking prior Congressional approval — but only in response to attacks by entities (primarily Al Qaeda and the Taliban) deemed directly or indirectly responsible for the Septamber 11 terrorist attacks.
While it seems that the AUMF would greatly limit the President’s powers to wage war, it didn’t work out that way. Rather, we’ve slid down a slippery slope over the ensuing years to the point where the AUMF can now justify an attack on almost anyone the President chooses. Notably, the AUMF has been interpreted to extend to terrorist entities, such as ISIS, that had no direct connection to 9/11. With our recent bombings of Syria (also in no way involved in 9/11), many in Congress have begun to question whether the AUMF’s authority has gone too far.
Enter the “Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2018” — often referred to as the Corker-Kaine draft — which supposedly reasserts Congress’ role in “authorizing and conducting oversight of the use of military force.” While renewed oversight is a worthy goal, and one that Indivisible East Bay solidly supports (especially with someone as erratic and reckless as the Current Occupant of the White House), it is unclear that the new AUMF truly accomplishes this goal.
In fact, some claim it does almost the opposite.
For example, the 2018 AUMF allows the President to designate new groups as military enemies, and such a designation would remain in force until and unless Congress subsequently rejects it. If Congress fails to take any action (a too common outcome in today’s polarized climate), the President’s unilateral decision would stand. Congress could exert greater and more appropriate oversight if its approval was required before the President could engage in military combat. While the President should retain some ability to act quickly in a crisis, most responses can wait for this Congressional approval.
The 2018 AUMF broadens the scope of the President’s power by untethering future U.S. military actions from any requirement that they be linked to 9/11 or any other attacks against our country. As Representative Barbara Lee argues, the new AUMF “effectively consents to endless war by omitting any sunset date or geographic constraints for our ongoing operations.”
Please contact Senators Feinstein and Harris and let them know that you oppose the 2018 AUMF as currently worded. What to say:
My name is ___________, my zip code is ____________, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m concerned about the current draft of the Corker-Kaine AUMF bill. The draft AUMF has no territorial or time limits and no meaningful limit on who the president may prosecute wars against. This gives gives far too much of Congress’ decision-making power to the president. I support repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMF but any replacement needs clear limits, not fewer limits, on what the president can do. I want the Senator to oppose the draft Corker-Kaine AUMF bill as it’s now written.