Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California wants to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) and the 2002 Iraq AUMF, which three presidents have now used to start shooting wars in what the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) calculates to be 18 different countries.
AUMFs authorize the president as commander-in-chief to authorize the use of American military forces unilaterally, without having to go to Congress for the permission or money. The 2001 AUMF enabled President Bush II legally to invade Afghanistan, and pretty much anywhere else he wanted to send troops. The 2002 AUMF specifically allowed Bush II to invade Iraq without having to go back to Congress for approval.
These AUMFs are really MFs, to use the parlance of Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. Until repealed, they just keep on keeping on, giving a legal fig leaf to unconstitutional authoritarian actions by the president. Our Constitution states that Congress has the sole authority to decide when we go to war. Yet a majority of current members of Congress did not vote on any war that the United States is currently fighting.
To most Representatives and Senators, handing war-making authority to the president lets them off the hook with their constituents. They can say that they are in favor of or against a particular conflict, but they never have to have a voting record to put the lie to their words. It gives foreign powers—and the president himself (until a woman president comes along)—the illusion that the country is unified in supporting the war. Of course, I dare say most Americans would be unable to name the 18 countries in which we have fought under cover of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.
Tragic to note, not one of these wars has worked out with the U.S. getting what it wants. Iraq was perhaps the most foolish American invasion ever and led to the growth of ISIS throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Afghanistan has been the quagmire that even a cursory reading of world history would have predicted.
We must repeal the two AUMFs as a first step in shrinking the military budget and changing U.S. foreign policy to focus on multilateral negotiations and economic actions, not brute force. In 2019, the United States is going to spend more than $700 billion in the military budget. We could easily cut the military budget to under $400 billion if we withdrew from our many dirty little wars and stopped development of robotic weapons that work without human command and the next generation of nuclear weapons.
Imagine having $300 billion to spend on building dedicated mass transit, fixing roads, bridges and sewer systems, cutting the number of children in public elementary school classes, preparing vulnerable areas for extreme weather events and investing in carbon neutral technologies. Combine that with the billions more we could raise by doing what Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes: returning to the income tax system pre-Reagan, when the highest marginal rate was 70%. Then we would have enough to address our many social problems and pay down our national debt. The entire history of the United States and the Western European democracies demonstrate that replacing military spending with domestic investments and raising taxes on the wealthy leads to a stronger economy in which there are mostly middle class people, with few ultra-wealthy. The opposite approach, favored by Republicans, of lowering taxes on the wealthy and spending as much as possible on the military to the detriment of domestic programs, has proven to create a society in which most are struggling to get by and a few have fabulous incomes and assets.
Repealing the AUMFs thus carries constitutional, moral, foreign policy and economic implications. Constitutionally, it will put war-making decisions back where they belong—in the hands of Congress. The moral dimension is obvious: fewer wars, less death, destruction and displacement. On the foreign policy level, we will end up in fewer wars, because the bar for starting a war will be much higher—not just the whim of an imperial president, but the vote of democratic Congress. Finally the economic case for repealing the AUMFs is compelling: fewer wars means fewer expenditures, which in turn should lead to investing more in building our future.
Representative Lee is working to get 50 co-sponsors to legislation to revoke the two AUMFs. I urge all readers to write, call, email or telegraph their Representatives and Senators and tell them that you want them to support and co-sponsor legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs.