My Turn: It is time to end the AUMF and forever wars

For the Monitor
Published: 5/27/2019 12:10:26 AM

This Memorial Day, I reflect on my years as a public school teacher and those Memorial Day programs. Singing patriotic songs, saluting the flag, honoring the veterans and current service members who were parents or grandparents of the students.

Since starting at the school in 2001, we had always been at war. I couldn’t help thinking, “What if we were not at war and their parents served in peacetime?”

Yet during that time, only twice had Congress voted to go to war in 2001 and 2002. And those Authorizations for Use of Military Force, (AUMF) have been used ever since in over 41 conflicts.

When two veterans’ groups, VoteVets and Concerned Veterans of America, sat down to discuss their differences, they discovered one thing they agreed on. Although they disagree about most issues and are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, they found that they agreed that it is time to repeal the AUMF from 2001.

Although it was passed in reaction to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it has been stretched to cover 41 military operations in 19 countries. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has even indicated he would use it to authorize a war in Iran.

So why would these two veterans’ organizations agree to repeal this?

First a bit of history and background. Article 1, Section 8, of the U. S. Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, not the president. Clearly our Founding Fathers wanted to take this power out of the hands of one man. The president has some limited powers to use the military in situations of defense during a sudden attack, but cannot take the country into a prolonged war.

In 1973, during the Vietnam War, Congress passed the War Powers Act. So now the president has to consult with Congress before committing troops, notify Congress within 48 hours after introducing troops into combat, or when it is imminent. Then he/she must end the action within 60 days if there is no further authorization from Congress.

But if the president can stretch the 2001 authorization to cover his new situation, Congress has been left out of having any say in the action.

There is also a 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq, but that authorization is more specific to fighting in relation to Iraq. This is our situation now.

The 2001 AUMF has no sunset clause or ending date, the military targets are not clear, it has no geographic restrictions or restrictions on when we can use ground troops. It is a prescription for endless war.

It has been claimed to authorize attacks against groups that did not even exist when it was written. It has been used for so long that many members of Congress have never had the opportunity to debate it or understand how it is used.

Now this administration is using the law for a possible war against Iran. There is also talk of using it in Venezuela.

This has no relation to its purpose in fighting al-Qaida. It is not even remotely related.

It makes sense to me that those in our military would want to know that Congress has discussed and agreed to the goals of a conflict, where it is to be fought, when we will want to end it or decide to continue. These are things that should be openly debated.

As this kind of action is contemplated, other options, such as diplomacy or solutions to the reasons for the conflict, could be talked about. Congress could decide to try an alternative. Most often there really is a peaceful alternative.

If we are under direct attack (a situation that is not likely) and the president responds, we should have congressional debate within 60 days.

It makes sense that two different veterans’ organizations would want this, too. This should be a bipartisan issue. Fewer wars would result, and fewer veterans would be injured and require care.

I am sure the endless nature of these unresolved wars contributes to the sadness or lack of closure that many veterans feel.

Other groups on the opposite ends of the spectrum are also in agreement on repealing these AUMFs. Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, is now aligned with Sen. Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, to wind down the 17-year military campaign in Afghanistan. Bipartisan agreement is possible on this issue.

There is a real opportunity to change this situation now.

When H.R. 1274, a bill to repeal the AUMF laws, comes up for a vote, U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas should vote for it. They could act now to co-sponsor it. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan should support this when it gets to the Senate. This bill is so well written it even allows eight months before it takes effect to allow work on ongoing conflicts to be addressed.

There is no real reason not to repeal these AUMFs and have Congress debate and decide when we need to go to war.

It is even more critical now that this administration has a hawk like John Bolton, who will use any excuse to go to war with Iran.

Going to war should not be left in his hands but debated by the people’s representatives.

Wouldn’t it better if our children in New Hampshire knew their parent were safe from undebated and unauthorized wars?

(Sara Smith lives in Pembroke.)




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