It’s Time for Congress to Reclaim Its Authority to Declare War
Since I moved to the District of Columbia in 2016, I’ve been privileged to be part of a church that has a large military population. Dozens of men and women from nearly every branch of the military have joined our congregation every two years or so. They are some of the most patriotic Americans I have ever met. They have a genuine heart to serve our nation, no matter the cost. They fight for the freedom of every American regardless of their worldviews or political affiliations.
One of the most solemn votes that a member of Congress can take is to send Americans into harm’s way. That right is granted to Congress by Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison wrote that “the Constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care, vested the question of war in the legislature.” However, Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration of war since World War II, and yet the United States has still sent thousands of men and women to foreign conflicts. Why is this happening?
The issue lies with what are called Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs), resolutions passed by Congress giving the president authority to send troops and weapons to foreign conflicts. With such authorizations, Congress has abdicated its Article I responsibility, effectively giving the president the unilateral authority to declare war. AUMFs fail to provide specific mission goals and significantly increase the risk that America will enter foreign conflicts with little to no debate. They also risk becoming blank checks that future presidents can use to justify involvement in other conflicts.
Currently, AUMFs are still in place from 1957, 1991, 2001, and 2002. None of these reflect our current strategic challenges and should be repealed to prevent presidents from bypassing congressional authorization of future conflicts. Furthermore, only a little more than 10% of the current members of Congress voted on any of these AUMFs. The 1991 AUMF authorized President George H.W. Bush to send troops to Kuwait to stop Saddam Hussein’s invasion while the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs gave President George W. Bush the authority to send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq respectively. A bill to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMF’s has been introduced in both the House and Senate, with the Senate passing their version of the bill on Wednesday with broad bipartisan support. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) indicated that he would hold a vote on the bill in the House once it moves out of committee.
Of the bill, Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said: “The framers gave Congress the grave duty to deliberate the questions of war and peace, but for far too long this body has abdicated this duty. We must do our job. Repealing the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs — which will not impact ongoing operations in the Middle East — is necessary to ensure these decades old and outdated authorities are not abused in the future. This would be a first step towards a clearer, more focused military strategy, a more responsible government, and a stronger, more united country.”
The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs should be repealed because we have accomplished our missions in Kuwait and Iraq. Furthermore, we should not leave the door open to allow another president to justify involvement there. The 2001 AUMF should be repealed as well since the U.S. no longer has a presence in Afghanistan. Repealing these AUMFs will not jeopardize U.S. security but is necessary to prevent a future president from using them to justify further conflicts. It’s also essential that Congress reclaim their rightful authority to declare war, rather than ceding that authority to the president.
When circumstances necessitate AUMFs in the future, it’s essential that Congress define the specific mission, adversary, and country. The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs are far too broad and risk becoming blank checks for the president to justify sending more troops in the future. Congress should require frequent reports on AUMFs and allow them to expire every two years. Doing so will require thorough debate and recorded votes for renewal and ensure that sending our sons and daughters off to war does not become an afterthought.
Our men and women in uniform are willing to put their lives on the line in defense of our freedoms. If they have the courage to do that, Congress at the very least owes these men and women a significant debate on why they are sending them into harm’s way. Failing to do so is cowardly and a serious dereliction of duty.