It's Past Time for a New Vote on the War on Terror

The Trump administration pushes back on the idea of a new AUMF; Congress should push harder.


U.S. Army

The White House is pushing back against the idea that it needs a renewed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to cover the ongoing military response to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The administration is apparently concerned that a new AUMF would impose limits on its military actions around the world.

Well, yes. That's the whole point.

The AUMF passed after 9/11 was meant to target Al Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and their "associated forces"—the groups the U.S. held responsible for the September 11 attacks. Since then, the executive branch has invoked the AUMF to justify almost every military intervention that Washington has undertaken.

The two major exceptions are the Iraq War of 2003–2011, for which President George W. Bush sought and received a specific AUMF, and the intervention in Libya, which saw President Barack Obama waving away his lack of authorization by citing support from the United Nations and other international bodies. Both misadventures show why it's important for Congress to assert its role in the war-making process.

In the first case, the Iraq-specific AUMF helped to define the administration's rationales and goals for war, and it placed members of Congress on the record for or against the conflict. This made it easier to hold the administration accountable to its own terms, and it gave voters some insight into their representatives' stances.

The lack of an AUMF in Libya, on the other hand, made it even more difficult for Congress to exercise substantive oversight of the conflict. It also ensured that there would be little to no accountability for anyone in the Obama administration for the failures in the Libya campaign and the mess the U.S. helped to make.

Unfortunately, if a Republican-controlled Congress was unable to exert any oversight over the wars of a Democratic president they campaigned against in almost every other policy domain, and who said he welcomed a new AUMF, it's even less likely to do any of those things with a Republican president in charge.

This is particularly disappointing given that both Obama and the 114th Congress knew pretty early last year that there was a 99.99 percent chance the next president would be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Obama spent the campaign warning Americans that Trump was "uniquely unqualified" for the office of the president, while Republicans had spent years up to that point investigating Clinton's blunders in Libya and elsewhere. Yet they did nothing to impose those missing limits.

Even after the "uniquely unqualified" Trump was elected, Obama made no effort to impose any limits on his successor. Instead he declared that the 9/11 AUMF also covers U.S. operations in Somalia. As he has elsewhere in the war on terror, Trump then ramped up the intervention.

At this point Trump, who on the campaign trail said he'd be open to an AUMF—Trump took a lot of positions on the campaign trail, not all of them consistent with one another—may be the only one who could make congressional oversight or limits on the war on terror possible. Not by supporting for such a move again (that's highly unlikely) but by alienating members of Congress enough that they finally assert their constitutional role.

The most recent effort to pass a new AUMF is being led by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who last tried to pass a new AUMF in mid-2015.

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  1. There needs to be a Declaration of War or bring troops home [period]

    Stop giving politicians easy ways out with half-assed war making authorizations like AUMFs.

    If sending US troops is that important than ask Congress for a Declaration of War. Since most of the combat is not that important to US interests, presidents wont get so many men and women killed.

    1. No, no, that’s too old-fashioned, we need new labels for passing the buck…I mean entrusting the President with the power to pursue the evildoers wherever on earth they may be.

      1. They passed the War Powers Act to avoid declaring war. Now they don’t even enforce that when a president openly breaks it.

      2. If we allow our country to return to democratic norms than the terrorists have won.

  2. AUMF, there it is

    Things that make you go AUMF

    1. AUMF is the sound I make when I’m straining to carry a heavy object.

  3. I always get people mad when I point out that Iraq was actually the only recent war where we followed the proper procedure.

    Also, Democrats in Congress knew everything Bush did. The public can claim “Bush lied” to excuse their support for the war, but the Democrats in Congress who said Bush lied to them only have themselves to blame and, had the war been successful, regardless of WMDs, would have proudly boasted of their support.

    1. Not only that, we left when they asked us to leave. From June 2004 on, we operated at the invitation of the Iraqi government. And when that invitation was withdrawn, we left. People somehow always fail to mention that when they are ranting about our illegal occupation and war for oil and all that.

      1. War for oil has always irritated me. If we were at war for oil, where’s the oil?

    2. Democrats have *only* themselves to blame?

      If I wanted to consume hollow partisan horseshit I’d flip to Hannity. What’s with this new crop here? Fucking boring as fuck.

      1. I suppose they could blame their parents for reproducing as well.

      2. Wow. Two permutations of the word “fuck” in a single sentence 4 words long. I’m convinced

  4. This is particularly disappointing given that both Obama and the 114th Congress knew pretty early last year that there was a 99.99 percent chance the next president would be either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.


  5. Libya has nothign to do with the AUMF or the need for a new one. The bombing of Libya was in no way authorized by the existing AUMF. Passing a new AUMF won’t solve the problem of administrations ignoring it.It will just give them a new AUMF to ignore.

    I think there is something to be said for passing a new AUMF. A new AUMF could if properly written make the President’s authority more certain and better defined. That, however, will do nothing to solve the problem of getting any President to not abuse the AUMF if he chooses to. That will only end when Congress as a body decides that it wants to take control and with it the responsibility associated with when the US uses military force. And all I can say to that possibility is good luck with that.

  6. All of which ignores the inconvenient fact that various groups of Islamic fascists are at war with the West, whether we fight back or not. Is our side of the war being well thought out? Kinda hard to tell. Bush took down the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which were legitimate targets. Iraq, because Saddam had never even come really close to meeting the terms of surrender for the Gulf War, so technicallymwe were,still,at,war,with him. He represented nfinished business that had to be cleared before any later negotiations would be taken seriously. But then Bush had us stay and try ‘nation building’, whatever that meant to him, which blunted the message “don’t come to our negative attention, you won’t like the results.”. Obama seems to have been largely clueless, and got us into various piss-ups more or less at random. Not sure, yet, what Trump thinks he’s doing.

    Unless somebody manages convince the local nations that surpressing Islamic radicalism is just good sense, the terroritsmare going to keep attacking the West until the West has has Enough Of This Shit. At which point life for all Islamics everywhere is going to get very nasty. Won’t be good for them and won’t be good for us either.

    1. Bombing Muslim countries = suppressing Islamic terror? Is that perhaps a bit simplistic, if not indeed counter to reality?

      1. Yes Tony, you are correct. Calling it “Bombing Muslim countries ” is a bit simplistic, if not indeed counter to reality

        1. I would argue that the only thing likely to work – other than outright conquest of the region, and Gods below I want to avoid that – is old fashioned Gunboat Diplomacy; “We can’t find the terrorists in your country, but we think you can. Find them. Deal with them. Or you’ll be getting a visit from the USMC.”. It’s brutal, it’s amoral, and it has a history of working….which relying on International Cooperation a la the UN doesn’t.

          But ‘Bombing Muslim Countries” isn’t Gunboat Diplomacy, because nobody is making the quid pro quo clear. We’re just lobbing explosives around.

          Sooner or later some bunch of Islamotwits is going to pull off something really awful. A fuel-air explosion in downtown Detroit (which has collapsed so far it’s hard to believe the local authorities would catch the attempt). A chemical attack on a crowd. Something. Something that really riles up the citizenry. Life gets unpleasant when you do that. Ask the Japanese.

          So, we bomb Mecca. We overrun several Muslim countries with fore and the sword. And then we have to govern the mess.


          We’re headed for the transition from Republic to Imperium, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

    2. Except Saddam was doing a better job of suppressing the Islamic fascists than the US has done.

      1. True. The great irony: Saddam was an opponent of the Sunnis and suppressed them ruthlessly. Did that make him a good man? No. But it certainly had the potential for making him an ally, just as we could have made Qaddafi an ally. But that would have required things like foresight and diplomatic acumen, things our State Department has been devoid of for several decades now.

  7. RE: It’s Past Time for a New Vote on the War on Terror

    It will only be the same as the old vote on the War on Terror.
    Nothing will change, at least, nothing good.

  8. It will end when Muslims stop killing people…

    Which is never going to happen.

  9. Both parties want the president to retain dictatorial warmaking power, since they have a 50-50 chance of winning the presidency. Changing the balance of power in Congress is much tougher, and Congress takes no initiative.

    1. Here’s where Madison dropped the ball, he thought Congress members would, out of self-interest, want to protect the prerogatives of Congress.

      But their self-interest isn’t necessarily in strengthening their institution vis-a-vis the Presidency. Their interest is in having enough power to vote pork for their supporters, but also in (a) promoting the interests of their party and (b) avoiding controversial votes which could lose them their phony-baloney jobs.

      What could be more controversial than voting for war? Or voting against war?

      The incentive is to pass the buck, taking credit for any war that’s popular but reserving the right to turn against the war if it becomes unpopular or associated with the other party.

      How can have that sort of flexibility if they have to have an up or down vote on specific wars?

      Madison should have paid more attention to the lure of buck-passing.

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