Like the 2002 AUMF, the 1991 AUMF is another strand in the tangled web that holds the Forever War together. The 2002 AUMF codified the Cold War Carter Doctrine in US law. The 1991 AUMF codifies it through international law.
It establishes a policy of using UN Resolutions to create, maintain, and perpetuate a standing army of coalition forces to serve as the Forever Military Cops of MENA. The 1991 AUMF is another cog in the Forever War Machine, and repealing it is not “performative”.
Calls to Action
Those who hope to end the Forever War should call or email their congresspersons and ask them to repeal the the 1991 AUMF. Please tell them that the Persian Gulf War is over, and we should start acting like it.
Please call or email Chuck Schumer to make sure the senate measure gets a floor vote soon.
Please call or email your senators and ask them to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMF’s. Please tell them: Saddam is dead, there were no WMD’s, and it’s time to put this embarrassing issue to bed.
I don’t suggest that any of us demand they take their war powers back. The awful truth, is that most in congress don’t want that responsibility. It’s why these measures have stayed on the books for so long. But by voting to end apparently defunct war bills, they inadvertently will.
Joe Biden promised that he would end the Forever War if we elected him president, and it looks like this is a promise he actually means to keep. He started working with congress, right after he got sworn in, to repeal all of the AUMF’s associated with our military actions in the Middle East, and yesterday, the House actually passed a measure to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq.
Chuck Schumer has promised that the bill will get a floor vote in the Senate, and we actually have bi-partisan support for it. Republican senators Todd Young, Rand Paul, Chuck Grassley, and Lisa Murkowski are all on board, and there are several conservative interest groups lobbying heavily for it, including Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation.
I think President Biden may literally weep when he signs this bill into law, and not just because he’s been calling for it since 2007. The 2002 AUMF has cost him a lot. His son Beau Biden fought in Iraq, and the chemicals that he was exposed to there ended up taking his life. So… when he made the promise, on the campaign trail, to repeal it and to end the Forever War, I knew he meant it… because I also knew that this is a very personal issue for him.
Now, some people may think that repealing the 2002 AUMF is an empty gesture… and that this whole thing is just performative. Since the bill authorized the Iraq War, and the Iraq War is over, what is the harm in letting it stay on the books, and why do we need to repeal it? The Biden administration has even said that there isn’t anything that we are doing in the Middle East right now that depends on it for authorization, and repealing it won’t affect current operations. So, what is the point?
It is extremely important to understand that the Forever War wasn’t built with just one bill. It was created by a web of legislation, which is what makes it so difficult to dismantle, and this AUMF is part of that web. For example, Section 3 authorizes the president to use our military, however he deems necessary and appropriate, to defend our national security against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions regarding Iraq.
There is a multitude of UNSC resolutions related to Iraq, and there will probably be even more in the future. This bill can be applied to just about anything — like the Maximum Pressure campaign against Iran, and the assassination of Soleimani — with just a little bit of language tweaking. It is basically a blank check. And if you read a little bit further, down to the section about required reports, you’ll see that what would be considered appropriate includes … “actions described in section 7 of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998”.
And what’s in section 7 of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998? Assistance for Iraq upon replacement of Saddam Hussein’s regime, including support for Iraq’s transition to democracy. The 1998 bill actually only authorized using our military to get rid of munitions and weapons of mass destruction, and as far as democracy building, it only authorized humanitarian assistance. But when we combine the 1998 bill, and the 2002 bill, we end up with an authorization for a military presence in Iraq, for the purpose of building democracy, with no specific end date.
The 2002 AUMF is just one strand of the tangled web that holds up the Forever War, but it may actually be the most crucial one that we need to sever. The most obvious reason would be that it authorizes military force. The less obvious, but more important reason, has to do with one of the “whereas” sections: “Whereas it is in the national security interests of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region.”
The 2002 AUMF is neither obsolete, nor irrelevant. It codifies a cold war policy established by President Jimmy Carter in his 1980 State of the Union Address, when he said:
“Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
— President Jimmy Carter
The Carter Doctrine is the foundation of the Forever War. Carter made it policy, and the 2002 AUMF made it law. If we really want to end the Forever War, and keep it from rearing its ugly head again, we need to start by repealing this piece of legislation.
Naomi is a political science researcher and this is her personal blog. She also hyper-tweets on Twitter, publishes more serious articles on SubStack, and dabbles with podcasting on PodBean. Learn more about her here.