Honor veterans: Repeal the Iraq War Authorization
Special to Stars and Stripes November 8, 2021
Together our organizations represent millions of veterans and family members from across the political spectrum. This Veterans Day, we’re joining forces to call on the U.S. Senate to take immediate action that would benefit our members: repeal the 2002 Iraq War Authorization (AUMF).
In 2002, Congress gave President George W. Bush authority to invade Iraq. That authorization remains active, even though the war it started is over. Presidents from both parties have taken advantage of this Iraq War carryover to engage in military hostilities without congressional approval.
There are three reasons the Senate should vote to repeal this outdated law: it’s good for veterans, it’s good for the country, and it’s achievable.
It’s good for veterans and their families, both current and future: When wars end, it’s important to acknowledge that they’ve ended. At a fundamental level, it makes clear to veterans of those wars that their service had a purpose, and that purpose was accomplished.
The Iraq War is one such war. In July, U.S. and Iraqi forces announced that the U.S. military mission in Iraq had formally transitioned into a purely advisory role. Biden administration officials have repeatedly testified that the 2002 Iraq War Authorization is no longer needed for ongoing military operations. This law’s purpose has long expired.
The 2002 AUMF is outdated and irrelevant; however, it is not harmless. On the contrary, leaving this law on the books puts current and future military families at risk of future presidents taking reckless, unilateral military action. If our community is going to be called into another war, we deserve rigorous public debate; this law undermines that value.
The U.S. military has been operating at a heightened wartime tempo since 2001. With only 1% of Americans serving, this mission has fallen on fewer and more exhausted shoulders. Many members of our all-volunteer force come from families that have histories of service. But requiring a father and son, a mother and daughter, or siblings to serve in the same war decades apart — sometimes even together — is not sustainable. Many military families feel burnt out, posing a risk to readiness and retention. The last thing our troops need is for it to be easier to enter into wars of choice. Repealing this AUMF reduces that likelihood.
It’s the right thing for the country: The Constitution gives Congress authority over declaring war. This makes intuitive sense, as Congress is the branch of government that holds the purse and faces voter accountability through elections most frequently. The founders, in their wisdom, made the president commander-in-chief, but did not intend for the executive to have broad, unilateral authority like a king.
Yet Congress has reneged on that responsibility by ceding war powers to the executive branch and leaving blank check war authorizations in place. Members have preferred to duck the hard votes rather than to exert checks and balances on presidential power. It’s long past time for Congress to take back its role and restore Constitutional war powers, starting with the 2002 AUMF.
Repealing outdated war powers not only benefits those in uniform — it also protects the broader American public. When presidents take unilateral military action, it comes at a high financial and security cost to the entire country.
The votes are there: Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of AUMF reform is its bipartisan appeal. Thanks to years of leadership and cooperation from members on both sides of the aisle, the House already passed a 2002 AUMF repeal earlier this year, and reporting indicates that this common sense legislation has the support it needs to pass the Senate and get signed into law.
Opinion editorial columns are filled with brilliant policy ideas that will never become reality. This issue is exceptional because it is easily achievable right now. In addition to being the right thing to do, it’s also the feasible thing to do.
Every Nov. 11, our country pauses to thank veterans for their service. There is no better way for members of Congress to demonstrate their gratitude than to follow through on their commitments to veterans in return. Wars come with grave costs. Their beginnings and ends both deserve an acknowledgement of that gravity.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate majority leader, has already expressed public support for bringing this issue to a vote this year. We welcome his support and urge a timely follow through. If our country’s veterans can do their job despite myriad challenges, surely Congress can do the same.
Sarah Streyder is the Executive Director at Secure Families Initiative and an active-duty military spouse. Naveed Shah is the Political Director at Common Defense and an Iraq War veteran. Luis Cardona is the Federal Affairs Liaison at Concerned Veterans for America.