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‘We Need to Make Sure It’s Done Right’: Peace Advocates Welcome Biden Move to Limit War Powers – Brett Wilkins (03/11/2021)

Longtime advocates for a more peaceful U.S. foreign policy expressed cautious optimism Friday following news that President Joe Biden intends to work with Congress to repeal some of the authorizations that have enabled decades of unending U.S. war and military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

“Let’s be clear, repealing the AUMFs only to replace them is not an end to forever wars.”
—Stephen Miles,
Win Without War

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden seeks to “ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.” 

The statement was a remarkable departure from previous administrations. The United States has been continuously at war ever since every member of Congress except Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) voted for the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that empowered then-president George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan in October 2001 and launch the worldwide so-called “War on Terror.”

In addition to the September 2001 AUMF, Congress passed another (pdf) just over a year later to allow the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. 

The Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations subsequently claimed and exercised expanded war powers. The results: Nearly 20 years of ceaseless war, 10 countries invaded or attacked by American forces, U.S. troops in scores of nations, hundreds of thousands of lives lost, tens of millions of people displaced, and trillions of dollars spent—with no end in sight.

The White House’s announcement Friday came two days after Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) reintroduced a resolution to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs against Iraq—but not the 2001 War on Terror authorization. 

Peace Action executive director Jon Rainwater told Common Dreams that while the announcement from the Biden White House comes as “welcome news”—a development that “will allow Congress to step up and take its rightful role as a body that decides whether or not the country engages in an endless war”—his group meets it with “very cautious optimism.”

“Getting at the legal unpinning for endless war is critical,” said Rainwater, “but it doesn’t truly get at the heart of this life and death matter.” He further stressed that Biden and Congress “must work together to actually end the decades long fighting, killing, dying, and spending that is on automatic pilot.”

“That means bringing all U.S. troops home from far-flung war zones from Syria to Afghanistan,” said Rainwater. “That means ending the U.S. airstrikes that tragically often kill civilians and only serve as a recruitment pretext for the very forces the U.S. is fighting.”

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the women-led peace group CodePink, said the organization supports repealing the AUMFs, “but this won’t be enough to stop this or other administrations from undertaking unauthorized military attacks.”

“The recent case in point is the February 25 airstrike in Syria,” Benjamin told Common Dreams. “The Biden administration didn’t use the AUMFs as justification. Instead it used an arguably more dangerous claim of self-defense as outlined in both Article II of the Constitution and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.”

“So yes, we should get rid of the AUMFs that date back from the 9/11 attacks,” added Benjamin, “but we also need to rein in the executive’s broad claim of self-defense when it is really carrying out offensive retaliatory attacks that can drag us into a full-scale conflict. Any such attacks should not be undertaken without congressional approval. Congress should push back on the administration by invoking the War Powers Act of 1973 to prohibit further unconstitutional airstrikes on Syria.”

Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, noted the “serious limitations” in the Kaine-Young proposal, most notably its omission of the 2001 AUMF.

“That means it fails to challenge the congressional authority that has been used more than any other in justifying—however much of a stretch is required—far-flung military activities that have killed people across the world in the name of fighting terrorism,” Bennis told Common Dreams

“There is another danger, if repealing the existing AUMF is merely a cover for passage of a new authorization designed to give presidents permanent authority to go to war.”
—Phyllis Bennis,
Institute for Policy Studies 

“There is another danger,” warned Bennis, “if repealing the existing AUMF is merely a cover for passage of a new authorization designed to give presidents permanent authority to go to war.” 

In a statement, Win Without War executive director Stephen Miles said “it is long past time to repeal the blank checks for endless war that are the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs” but that “we need to make sure it’s done right.” That means not only repealing the authorizations, said Miles, but also “democratically debating whether or not more war will make the United States or the world more secure.”

“Let’s be clear,” added Miles, “repealing the AUMFs only to replace them is not an end to forever wars.”