The Senate on Thursday began the process to lift the AUMFs from the 1991 and 2002 Iraq wars.
Dozens of Republicans are voting against the bipartisan measure, even though the war is long over.
Insider spoke to several Republican senators this week about why they oppose it.
With the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq approaching in 2003, the US Senate has begun repealing legislation that allowed the United States to wage war against the Middle East state in both the 1990s and 2000s years to lead.
On Thursday, the Senate voted to open a debate on a The invoice sponsored by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana, which would rescind both the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Forces (AUMF) against Iraq.
The measure overwhelmingly passed, with 19 Republicans — from self-proclaimed nationalists like Sens. Josh Hawley and JD Vance to moderates like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — all joining Democrats in supporting the bill. The White House has too approved the bill, and said it would have “no impact on ongoing US military operations”. President Joe Biden, who voted as a senator for both the 2001 and 2002 AUMF, publicly advocated repealing the post-9/11 laws that triggered “eternal wars”. Shortly after entering the White House.
But 27 Republican senators voted against starting the debate, signaling their opposition to the idea.
“It should be easy to remove,” quipped Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a supporter of the repeal. “But some Republicans will vote to continue a war that’s been over for 20 years.”
The Senate is expected to vote on changes to the bill over the course of the next two weeks, and it’s possible that some who voted against the measure today – and some who voted to start debate – may change their minds have could do the same.
The 2002 AUMF gave President George W. Bush legal authority to launch the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while the 1991 AUMF did the same for the US invasion of Iraq during the Gulf War.
The house easily passed separate bills Repealed the 1991 and 2002 AUMF in June 2021 when the House was controlled by Democrats; The Senate never voted on the measure that year.
It now remains unclear whether the measure would be taken up by the Republican-led House of Representatives, although dozens of House Representatives backed the idea in 2021.
So why did these 27 Republicans vote no when they essentially agreed that the war in Iraq was over?
“The world remains a troubled place”
In interviews with Insider in the Capitol this week, Republican senators conceded that despite the end of the Iraq war, they believe the US must still be able to wage war given the operation of Iranian-backed militias in the country in Iraq to carry the looming threat of terrorism.
“The world continues to be a troubled place, and I do not wish to remove any of the agencies that have been or could be relied upon to defend our interests,” said Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah.
Many specifically cited the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, in Iraq in January 2020 as an example of why it is important to uphold the AUMFs. The Trump administration offered the 2002 AUMF as partial justification for the Soleimani strike, a controversial military decision that brought the US and Iran to the brink of war.
“I don’t want to do anything that would limit the President’s ability to kill someone like Soleimani,” said Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott. “That’s probably what I care about the most.”
Legal scholars have questioned the notion that the AUMF of 2002 could be used to justify the assassination of an Iranian general, since the law was originally intended to open the door for the US to crack down on Saddam Hussein’s government. The 2003 invasion of Iraq also remains among the most criticized US foreign policy decisions in modern history. The invasion, which destabilized the region and contributed to the rise of ISIS, was launched amid false, disproved claims that Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Insider that repealing the AUMF only makes sense “if conditions in the Middle East are different than they are right now.” Still the Pentagon increasingly looks to China and Russia as primary challenges to US national security and has diverted attention from countering Middle East-based jihadist groups.
However, some senators, who are traditionally defensive hawks, have expressed a willingness to discuss the issue.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said she looks forward to the amendment process when senators could potentially offer provisions clarifying that the US can still attack Iranian militias.
“I’m not married to either side yet,” Ernst said, saying the US needs to “maintain some flexibility” in the Middle East.
For Senator Paul, the lifting of the Iraq War AUMFs – which he described as “symbolic” – does not go far enough.
The Kentucky Republican told Insider that he was considering offering an amendment to repeal the 2001 AUMF, which passed just days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — by a single dissenting vote. The law authorized the President to use “all necessary and reasonable force against any nation, entity, or person which in his opinion may have planned, authorized, committed, or supported the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or hosted any such entity or person.”
Paul lashed out at Democrats for resisting repeal of the 2001 permit, arguing that it “authorizes wars in 20 different countries, according to several presidents.”
The AUMF of 2001 opened the door to the invasion of Afghanistan, beginning the longest war in US history. The law has been a linchpin of the US government’s global fight against terrorism for decades and has been used by every president since George W. Bush to justify counter-terrorism operations in 22 countries.
Critics of the 2001 AUMF have argued that its language is too broad and gives presidents a blank check to wage endless wars, while simultaneously undermining Congress’ constitutional war powers.
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