WASHINGTON: The Senate took a first step Thursday toward repealing two measures that give open-ended approval for military action in Iraq, pushing to end that authority as the United States marks the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War.
Senators voted 68-27 to move forward on legislation that would repeal the 2002 measure that greenlighted that March 2003 invasion of Iraq and a 1991 measure that sanctioned the US-led Gulf War to expel Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. Nineteen Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the measure.
The bipartisan effort comes at a time when lawmakers of both parties are seeking to reclaim congressional powers over US military strikes and deployments, arguing that the war authorizations are no longer necessary and subject to misuse if they are left on the books. President Joe Biden has backed the push, and the White House issued a statement Thursday in support.
“Repeal of these authorizations would have no impact on current US military operations and would support this administration’s commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners,” the White House said.
It’s unclear whether leaders in the Republican-controlled House would bring the bill up for a vote. Forty-nine House Republicans supported the legislation when then-majority Democrats held a vote two years ago, but current House Speaker Kevin McCarthy opposed it.
Senate Republicans are also split on the legislation. While the 19 GOP senators voted for it, opponents argue that the repeal could project weakness to US enemies. They have pointed out that President Donald Trump’s administration cited the 2002 Iraq war resolution as part of its legal justification for a 2020 US drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani.
The October 2002 votes to give President George W. Bush broad authority for the invasion — coming just a month before the midterm elections that year — became a defining moment for many members of Congress as the country debated whether a military strike was warranted. The US was already at war then in Afghanistan, the country that hosted the Al-Qaeda plotters responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, something Iraq played no part in.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who was in the Senate at the time and voted against the resolution, said on the floor before Thursday’s vote that “I look back on it, as I’m sure others do, as one of the most important votes that I ever cast.”
“The repeal of this authorization of use the use of military force does not mean the United States has become a pacifist nation,” Durbin said. “It means that the United States is going to be a constitutional nation and the premise of our Founding Fathers will be respected.”
The Bush administration had drummed up support among members of Congress and Americans for invading Iraq by promoting false intelligence claims about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
After the initial March 2003 invasion of Iraq, American ground forces quickly discovered that the allegations of nuclear or chemical weapons programs were baseless. But the US overthrow of Iraq’s security forces precipitated a brutal sectarian fight and violent campaigns by Islamic extremist groups in Iraq. Car bombings, assassinations, torture and kidnapping became a part of daily life in Iraq for years.
Nearly 5,000 US troops were killed in the war. Iraqi deaths are estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
In the statement of policy, the White House said Biden would work with Congress to replace the authorizations with “a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.” It said the president want to ensure that Congress “has a clear and thorough understanding of the effect of any such action and of the threats facing US forces, personnel, and interests around the world.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the hours before the vote that he was glad that the repeal is a bipartisan effort after the Iraq conflict was the cause of “so much bitterness” in the past.
“Americans are tired of endless wars in the Middle East,” Schumer said.
Washington, March 16, 2023 Agence France Presse: Almost exactly 20 years after US forces invaded Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, the US Senate moved Thursday to revoke the law that authorized then-president George W. Bush to launch the war.
In a procedural vote that came over a decade after the war’s official end, senators from both parties strongly supported canceling the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which empowered Bush to send US forces to Iraq.
The same bill also revokes the 1991 AUMF that empowered Bush’s father president George HW Bush to attack Iraq after Saddam’s forces invaded Kuwait.
“The Iraq War has itself long been over. This AUMF has outlived its purpose and we can no longer justify keeping it in effect,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Every year we leave these AUMFs on the books is another year that a future administration can abuse them,” he said.
The 2002 AUMF has been mostly moribund.
But, because it allows the president to order any actions seen as threatening to Iraqi democracy, it has been used to justify several military actions in the past decade, like allowing US troops in Iraq to retaliate against Iran-allied militias that have fired rockets at bases housing US troops.
Most notably, it was cited in the January 2020 US assassination in Baghdad of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, ordered by Donald Trump.
Because of that, there have been fears that a president could use the AUMF to go to war with Iran, citing a threat from Tehran to Iraq, said Scott Anderson, an expert in national security law at Brookings Institution
“The biggest risk it presents is that people will use it more broadly,” beyond Congress’s original intent, Anderson said.
Since the beginning of his administration in 2021, President Joe Biden has urged Congress to revoke the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs.
But the legislation — which could come next week to a final vote in the Senate and then be sent to the House of Representatives — does not take action against the 2001 authorization of war in Afghanistan.
That authorization, with broad powers for the president to order military force against Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, has been used to carry on sustained actions in numerous countries including Syria, Yemen, Somalia and other parts of Africa.
In a statement Thursday on the revocations of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs, the Biden administration said the president is ready to work with Congress to replace other “outdated authorizations for the use of military force” with “a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.”