US President Joe Biden’s administration backs repeal of the 2002 congressional authorization for the war in Iraq, feeling it is not needed to protect US interests, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Tuesday.
“For the State Department, repealing the 2002 AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force) would not affect our diplomatic initiatives. And the administration has made clear that we have no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF, and that repeal would have minimal impacts on military operations,” Sherman, the No. 2 US diplomat, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
The Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to declare war. But that authority has shifted toward the White House, due partly to the passage of “forever war” authorizations like the 2002 AUMF that do not expire.
Tuesday’s hearing was part of an ongoing effort by lawmakers from both parties to wrest war powers back from the executive branch.
Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s Democratic chairman, said he hoped consideration of the Iraq AUMFs would also jump-start discussion of reforming an AUMF passed just after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for the fight against al Qaeda.
“We must have an honest conversation about the scope of this authority and the power of Congress in Article One of the Constitution to declare war,” Menendez said.
Sherman said the administration would “provide expert guidance” to assist Congress as it considered that repeal.
Presidents from both parties have used the 2001 and 2002 authorities to justify a wide range of international military action without congressional approval.
Former President Donald Trump cited the 2002 AUMF in early 2020 as a justification for attacking an Iranian military commander at an airport in Baghdad. Biden cited the 2001 AUMF for recent strikes in Somalia.
Some Republicans said repealing the Iraq AUMF - and one passed in 1991 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait - would convey weakness in a volatile part of the world. They also do not want to revoke current authorities before writing a replacement.
“I’m concerned that the repeal of the 2002 AUMF only adds to the wrong message that the administration, and I think all of us, are already sending to Iran, and our allies in the region,” Senator Jim Risch, the committee’s top Republican, said.
Democrats said the Iraq War is over. “After World War Two, we didn’t keep a military authorization against Japan just in case. We didn’t keep an authorization live against Germany, just in case,” said Senator Tim Kaine, a leader of efforts to repeal the AUMFs.
The foreign relations panel is expected to approve legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Iraq AUMFs on Wednesday.