Endless Wars: a timeline
Nineteen years ago, President George W. Bush signed into law a resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against the nations, organizations, and persons responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11.
While in principle this 2001 AUMF’s goal of bringing the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice is a narrow mission, it has been used in the decades since to wage a global war on terror. Has that effort actually served America’s best interests?
This isn’t the only authorization for the use of military force passed by Congress in recent years that has been used to carry on the endless wars we are involved in today. Twice Congress has given the White House authorizations to use our armed forces abroad, only to see them used to carry out significantly broader missions outside their intended scope.
In 1991, Congress authorized President George H.W. Bush to deploy the U.S. military to liberate Kuwait from domination by the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Since that war ended — nearly 30 years ago — the Soviet Union fell, cell phones and the internet became part of our everyday lives, 15 Olympic games have taken place, and more than 115 million Americans have been born (more than a third of our population today). In 2002 — nearly 20 years ago — Congress also authorized President George W. Bush to begin another military campaign in Iraq, which resulted in Saddam Hussein being removed from power.
And in those decades, these authorizations have not been updated or repealed. Along with the 2001 resolution, enacted after 9/11 and focused on al-Qaida in Afghanistan, they have thrown our nation into an era of seemingly endless wars.
Throughout this period, the men and women of our armed forces have repeatedly put themselves in harm’s way, but Congress has refused to do its duty. The Constitution charges Congress with responsibility for declaring war and maintaining our military. But most lawmakers have been content to cede authority and accountability to the president. They complain and criticize but take no action to update or repeal the authorizations they have provided to make military action possible.
These authorizations, which were intended to target Iraq and Al-Qaida, have now been used by successive presidents, since George W. Bush, to fight ISIS, deploy our armed forces in Syria, and fight militants in Yemen, Somalia, Mali and many other nations. According to the Congressional Research Service, the 2001 resolution alone has justified dozens of deployments around the world, in support of that mission.
Congress has abdicated its constitutional duty, refusing to debate and vote to approve deployments of our troops, allowing the president to initiate military action under stale authorizations passed decades ago, something the Framers of the Constitution expressly wanted to avoid. But when it comes to oversight and congressional accountability regarding its constitutional role in war and peace, Congress has checked out. Once that authority is given, it is not revoked.
The accompanying timeline illustrates how recent decades have seen foreign wars begun and expanded, but not ended. If you agree that after two decades of fighting, trillions of tax dollars spent and squandered, and thousands of American lives lost are enough to say “ENOUGH!,” please join us in becoming part of the End Endless Wars campaign.
January 12, 1991: Congress passes a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq to enforce a number of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It is signed by President George H.W. Bush two days later.
September 14, 2001: Congress passes a resolution, signed by President George W. Bush four days later, to provide the AUMF in response to the September 11 attacks. The law authorizes the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons …”
October 11, 2002: Congress passes the AUMF for Iraq, which is signed by President Bush four days later. The law authorizes the president to use the armed forces of the United States “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”
May 1, 2003: President Bush announces the end of major combat operations in Iraq.
November 15, 2005: By a margin of 79-19, the Senate approves an amendment directing that “calendar year 2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty … creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces [out of] Iraq,” and calling on the administration to “explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission in Iraq.”
July 14, 2008: Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, writes “My Plan for Iraq,” stating “I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president.” He says “on my first day in office, I would give the military a new mission: ending this war.”
July 15, 2008: Senator Obama outlines his plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by summer 2010, while leaving a “residual force” there, and vows to send “at least two additional combat brigades” to Afghanistan.
December 14, 2008: President Bush signs the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, a revised security deal with the Iraqi government that calls for “all American troops” to be withdrawn by the end of 2011.
February 17, 2009: Weeks after his inauguration as president, Barack Obama authorizes an increase of 17,000 in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. Prior to the Obama “surge,” there were 36,000 American troops and 32,000 more NATO troops serving in Afghanistan.
December 1, 2009: President Obama announces his decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by an additional 30,000, with withdrawal of those reinforcements to begin 18 months later. The increase was favored by General Stanley McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, who had warned the war would likely be lost without such a troop increase. At the same time, administration officials would seek a corresponding increase in NATO troop levels in the country. U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan would reach their Obama-era peak in 2011, at more than 100,000.
March 19, 2011: A NATO-led coalition, including the U.S., begins an air campaign in Libya against the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Initially conceived to prevent civilian deaths, the campaign ends in October with the killing of rebels and Gaddafi’s overthrow. The country was soon mired in civil war which continues to this day. Congress never debated or voted to authorize our involvement in this seven-month intervention.
September 30, 2011: Al-Qaida leaders Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan – both American citizens – are killed in an American drone strike in Yemen. The attack was intended to kill al-Awlaki, who was authorized as a U.S. target in 2010. Al-Awlaki’s son and daughter — also U.S. citizens — would later be killed in U.S. strikes in Yemen. The Obama administration claims authority for this act under the 2001 AUMF.
October 21, 2011: President Obama declares all U.S. combat troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, and “America’s war in Iraq will be over.” Most U.S. troops ultimately withdrew by December of that year, leaving behind fewer than 200.
May 23, 2013: President Obama delivers an address at the National Defense University, stating “The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core Al-Qaida is a shell of its former self. … So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.”
May 22, 2014: A group of Democratic leaders in the House and Senate announce the introduction of legislation to repeal the Iraq AUMF of 2002. This effort ultimately fails.
June 16, 2014: President Obama announces 275 troops will be sent to Iraq to provide security for the U.S. Embassy. That same week, he announces the creation of “joint operations centers” in Iraq, to coordinate planning to confront the ISIS threat. U.S. troops remain in Iraq to this day.
September 12, 2014: A senior official of the Obama administration identifies the 2001 AUMF as providing authority to retaliate against ISIS. The official argues that the 2002 AUMF also grants such authority, despite ISIS not existing in 2001 or 2002.
September 22, 2014: President Obama orders airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. Earlier that month, an administration official told reporters this action was authorized by the 2001 AUMF, as ISIS was a part of Al-Qaida.
December 13, 2014: Senator Robert Menendez introduces S.J.Res. 47, an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (commonly known as “ISIL” or “ISIS”), which provides a three-year authorization to use the Armed Forces of the United States against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or associated persons or forces — with limits on use of ground troops. The resolution follows a Senate hearing on the AUMF, and it is subsequently passed out of committee.
February 11, 2015: President Obama submits a request to Congress for a new AUMF against ISIS. He simultaneously endorses repeal of the 2001 AUMF. Leaders in Congress decline to act on the request, citing concerns it may place “constraints” on military commanders. By now there are 4,500 U.S. troops in Iraq – up from 200 at the end of 2011.
March 26, 2015: A coalition led by Saudi Arabia launches strikes against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. The move is seen as an attempt by Saudi Arabia and its allies to counter growing Iranian influence in Yemen. The U.S. offers “logistical and intelligence support” for the Saudi-led action. Within the next year, that support reportedly grows to include munitions and airborne tankers. This U.S. presence occurs without authorization by Congress.
October 25, 2016: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump warns that enforcing no-fly zones in Syria could lead the United States into conflict with Russia and Iran — potentially leading to “World War III.” Trump declares that “the first thing we have to do is get rid of ISIS before we start thinking about Syria.”
September 13, 2017: The U.S. Senate defeats a bipartisan push by Senators Rand Paul and Tim Kaine to repeal the 2001 AUMF. The vote is 61-36. Earlier in 2017, an effort to repeal the same AUMF was derailed by leadership in the House of Representatives.
April 16, 2018: A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduces legislation to replace both the 2001 AUMF in response to 9/11 and the 2002 Iraq AUMF with a revised AUMF aimed at Al Qaida, the Taliban, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). S.J.Res 59 is not acted on by the Senate.
March 6, 2019: Senators Kaine and Todd Young introduce legislation to repeal both the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force in Iraq.
April 16, 2019: President Trump vetoes S.J.Res. 7, a historic invocation of the War Powers Resolution by Congress against a current deployment, which passed the Senate by a vote of 54-46, and the House by a vote of 247-175. The measure would have directed the removal of unauthorized U.S. forces from hostilities in Yemen.
January 30, 2020: The House of Representatives votes to repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF, by a margin of 236-166.
February 29, 2020: The United States and the Taliban sign an accord intended to reduce violence in Afghanistan and which provides for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by April 2021.
September 8, 2020: President Trump announces plans to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,500, and to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan from 8,500 to between 4-5,000 by November.
October 7, 2020: President Trump calls for the full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
October 21, 2020: After almost 20 years of fighting and thousands of live lost, will our troops be coming home?