One of the most important votes a legislator can take is deciding whether to send U.S. troops into harm’s way. Unfortunately, Congress has neglected its Article I duty to authorize and oversee military action, relinquishing its war powers to the executive branch and increasing the risk of the U.S. entering unwise conflicts without proper deliberation. If our men and women in uniform have the courage to put themselves at risk in defense of the country, members of Congress should have the courage to vote on deploying American troops to that end.
Obsolete, over-broad, and open-ended Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) leave war-making decisions entirely to the executive branch, increasing the risk of America entering unwise conflicts with little-to-no oversight or debate. Congress’s abdication of its constitutional duty to decide matters of war and peace has skewed the intended constitutional balance of these powers. Our current AUMFs are over twenty years old, do not reflect current U.S. strategic challenges, and were voted on by little over a tenth of current Members.
Congress should honor its proper role by proactively reforming the War Powers Resolution to drive more robust future oversight. Legislators should require the operational specificity in future AUMFs that their gravity demands, and ensure they are thoroughly debated and regularly voted on. Legislators should also reject preemptive AUMFs, which bypass Congress’ constitutional role, effectively allowing the president to unilaterally declare war.
Repeal Outdated AUMFs: Congress should pass S.J. Res.10, repealing the 1991 & 2002 Iraq AUMFs. With our troops out of Afghanistan, Congress should also repeal the 2001 AUMF which authorized our invasion. Less than a fifth of current Members of Congress voted on any of these Authorizations, and none of them reflect current threats.
Keeping outdated AUMFs in place allows them to remain a tool for future Presidents to bypass Congress to enter conflict. For example, the 2001 AUMF has been stretched so far beyond its original intent that by 2021, it had been used to authorize operations in over 22 countries.i Congress should pass AUMFs when the missions are necessary for our national interests, but they should be narrowly written, thoroughly debated, and vote on.
War Powers Reform: Congress should pass the bipartisan National Security Powers Act (NSPA), the most comprehensive policy solution for war powers reform, developed with the guidance of some of the nation’s most prominent national security jurists. In addition to improving oversight for arms sales and emergency declarations, the NSPA would rebalance constitutional war powers by:
Reject Preemptive and “Blank-Check” AUMFs: Congress has a Constitutional duty to vote on when to send American troops into harm’s way. Lawmakers should honor this obligation and reject proposals for any preemptive AUMFs, which hand the power to declare war to the President. When outdated active AUMFs are repealed, Congress should also reject any replacements that are too broadly written, as the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs were, to ensure they do not become new blank checks for future military action.