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National Security & Defense

GOP Hawks Warn against Repealing Iraq War Resolution ahead of Vote

A U.S. Army paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division pulls security during a base-defense exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq, January 19, 2020. (Specialist Caroline Schofer/US Army)

In a little-noticed development on Friday, a House panel scheduled a vote to repeal the Congressional resolution that authorized the Iraq war.

National Review has learned that the House Foreign Affairs Committee will vote next Thursday on a measure to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq. This resolution to eliminate the Iraq War AUMF is expected to pass, likely with the support of all of the panel’s Democrats and Representative Peter Meijer (R., Mich.).

Repealing the 2002 AUMF and the 2001 AUMF that authorized force against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks has gained widespread popularity in both parties, as a war-weary public and top politicians have called for an end to the “forever wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan. But ahead of the vote on repealing the 2002 measure, some Republicans say they aren’t convinced, warning of ongoing threats from Iran, which backs proxies and operates in Iraq.

“Repeal of the 2002 AUMF is a deeply flawed idea and a dangerous mistake given our current global threats,” Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told National Review. “Only two weeks ago, Iranian-backed militias attacked US troops and we must have all tools at our disposal to ensure our troops can succeed in the Global War on Terrorism protecting American families at home by defeating mass murderers overseas.”

Wilson, who also leads the Republican Study Committee’s task force on national security, was referring to a recent rocket attack on an Iraqi air base that hosts U.S. personnel likely carried out by a group backed by Iran. No U.S. service members were killed in the incident, but an American contractor died of a cardiac incident as the rockets rained down.

That assault in early March followed an earlier, fatal rocket attack targeting coalition personnel in Iraq, which triggered a response from the White House.

President Biden responded with air strikes on an Iran-backed militia’s position in Syria, renewing Congressional calls to repeal what critics assert are outdated Congressional war authorizations. Since the beginning of the Biden presidency, progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups have led a push to repeal these laws, and following the airstrikes, the administration gave them a nod (though it only cited the constitution, not the 2002 AUMF, as justification for the strikes). Press secretary Jen Psaki told Politico that the White House supports efforts to replace the existing AUMFs with a “narrow and specific framework.”

And in a sign of how drastically the politics of these conflicts has shifted, a number of Republicans have started to sign onto such reform efforts. Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, was one prominent voice during the Trump administration supporting moves to rein in the executive’s war powers. He’s now joined by some more of his House colleagues.

Meijer and Representative Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) joined with Representatives Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.) and Jared Golden (D., Maine.) to introduce a bill this week that would repeal the 2002 AUMF, in addition to the 1957 and 1991 authorizations for Middle East conflicts and the Gulf War, respectively. Meijer hailed the proposal as “a necessary first step towards reclaiming Congress’s constitutional war powers and ending America’s forever wars,” and Gallagher called those existing authorities “no longer relevant,” adding that their repeal “would not affect ongoing operations.” They argue that while the 2002 authorization has been cited as justification for certain recent military action, those acts could still be authorized under Article II of the constitution and the 2001 AUMF.

But Jim Banks, the Indiana congressman who chairs the RSC, warns that a clean repeal would hamper the president’s ability to respond to attacks. “Repealing this AUMF without a replacement would be a dangerous mistake that would make America less secure. Iranian backed militias attacked Americans in Iraq just last week,” he said. “Repealing the AUMF now would send a dangerous message to our adversaries: attack our troops and we’ll stand down.” He cited the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad, which the Trump administration partly justified under the 2002 authorization.

Still, Banks, Wilson, and other hawks aren’t totally loath to repealing the 2002 AUMF — they just worry about leaving a gap in the president’s ability to use force.

The task force that Wilson leads issued a report calling the 2001 and 2002 resolutions “outdated” and in need of replacement. The RSC proposal suggests repealing the existing authorizations and enacting one instead that, for a specified amount of time, authorizes force against all officially designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This would only apply to those groups designated at the time of the bill’s passage to ensure that its scope cannot grow without Congressional approval.

It’s unclear if the would-be AUMF repealers could go along with the innovative proposal, though. That version of AUMF reform would provide explicit statutory authority for the president to use force against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which President Trump designated as an FTO.

It also has yet to be seen if a full-on 2002 AUMF repeal stands a chance of passing in the senate, as long as there are concerns about limiting the president’s options when it comes to responding to foreign threats.

If one thing is clear, though, it’s that Congress, which once laid dormant as the executive’s war powers ballooned, has entered a period of heightened interested in war powers reform — and this time, it might result in some concrete changes.

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