The House of Representatives
voted Thursday to repeal legislation passed in 2002 that authorized the invasion of Iraq
It was a victory for anti-war lawmakers and activists, who are now poised to secure an even bigger victory: the repeal of the contentious bill and the limitation of presidential war powers.
More than 40 Republicans and 219 Democrats
voted in favor of repealing the nearly two-decade-old authorization for the use of military force, which allowed the president of the United States
to deploy forces to pressure Saddam Hussein's regime and, arguably, achieve broader goals in Iraq.
The new legislation was drafted by Rep. Barbara Lee
(D-Calif.), a longtime critic of aggressive US foreign policy
. Because of how she and her allies have pushed politicians
to confront US overreach abroad, the Senate
and President Joe Biden
are expected to help end the authorization this year.
Withdrawing the authorization would not immediately end any current US military
operations, but critics of American foreign entanglements see it as a significant step toward reforming Washington
's approach to global affairs.
This would eliminate one of the legal justifications cited by officials for actions such as airstrikes
, while also confirming that lawmakers are growing wary of hawkish policies and their proponents, and are willing to play a larger role in matters of war and peace.
“For far too long, most members of Congress
have shied away from their constitutional duty to decide whether and where our country goes to war, and the fact that an 18-year-old authorization for a war that officially ended ten years ago remains on the books today perfectly symbolizes that inaction,” Erica Fein, the Washington director of the nonprofit Win Without War, said after the vote.
Success against the 2002 authorization could pave the way for a debate over another authorization that was passed days after the 9/11 attacks and allows action against the perpetrators and their partners. Presidents have more frequently cited that 2001 measure to greenlight military operations because it gives them more leeway in identifying targets than the 2002 authorization.
Lee was the lone member of Congress to vote against the 2001 authorization, describing it as a "blank check" and correctly predicting that it would be used for a wide range of operations.
The Biden administration
supported the repeal of the 2002 authorization, noting that “the United States has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF
as a domestic legal basis, and repeal of the 2002 AUMF would likely have minimal impact on current military operations.”
After Democrats took control of the House in 2018, they voted against the 2002 authorization, and President Barack Obama
stated in 2014 that he supported repeal; however, most Republicans and some top Democrats opposed the move for years, arguing that it would weaken the United States' ability to confront threats.
Because of the growing influence of advocates for more restrained foreign policy on the left and right, the authorization is now facing fatal bipartisan pressure.
Over the last few years, anti-war activists have focused Congress on one of the United States' most heinous military interventions: the civil war in Yemen
, and they have demonstrated their clout by passing bipartisan legislation opposing that involvement, including rare war powers resolutions intended to bar U.S. assistance for Saudi-led forces slaughtering Yemenis.
Former President Donald Trump
’s disastrous handling of national security
also contributed to congressional oversight. Trump cited the 2002 authorization in his controversial assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, and his saber-rattling with Iran prompted lawmakers to pass a bipartisan war powers resolution requiring Capitol Hill
’s approval for any attack on the country. (Trump vetoed the resolution.)
pushed Democrats to prioritize international human rights
and reflect on U.S. mistakes, while the Republican Party
's Trump-era foreign policy muddle provided an opportunity for conservatives
who want a more limited American presence abroad to have a greater say.
Sen. Chuck Schumer
(D-NY), who could face a left-wing primary challenger next year, endorsed repealing the 2002 authorization for the first time on Wednesday, and the Koch network, a major player in GOP
activism, urged its allies to back the repeal, noting that Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) is one of its champions.
On Thursday, 38 more House Republicans
voted to repeal the authorization than the previous time the proposal was considered, in January 2020.
However, a complete overhaul of military force use will necessitate far more change, and many politicians and national security officials remain wary of restrictions on US military action.
The Biden administration’s statement on the repeal effort reflected that viewpoint: “As the Administration works with Congress to reform [authorizations for the use of military force], it will be critical to maintain the clear authority to respond to threats to the United States’ national interests with appropriately decisive and effective military action,” the Office
of Management and Budget said.
On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on whether to repeal the 2002 authorization as well as another Iraq-related authorization from 1991.