Our Issues

Use of Military Force


Three days after the September 11th terror attacks, the House and Senate passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (2001 AUMF) with near-unanimous approval. In just sixty words, the 2001 AUMF granted then-President George W. Bush sweeping authority to retaliate against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Since the perpetrators of the attacks were not yet known, the 2001 AUMF used broad language, authorizing force against those who “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” in the attacks and those who “harbored” the attackers. But in the nearly two decades since, the executive branch has interpreted the resolution to apply to a growing number of groups in multiple countries with no connection to the 9/11 attacks. These wars have been extraordinarily costly: in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan alone, the fighting has killed more than half a million people, created 21 million refugees and displaced persons in the region, and cost the United States six trillion dollars.

“The Framers of the Constitution had a clear understanding regarding decisions about war. Congress must act to initiate war.”

— Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

The lack of specificity, geographic boundaries, or a sunset provision in the 2001 AUMF has allowed four administrations to interpret the authorization in a manner that effectively cedes to the president the congressional role of authorizing military action. The 2001 AUMF has been used to justify 41 operations in 19 countries by the administrations following the President George W. Bush administration.

The following year, Congress passed the 2002 Iraq Authorization for Use of Military Force (2002 AUMF) to authorize war against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The 2002 AUMF legally justified “necessary and appropriate” military action to “defend U.S. national security” against the threat posed by Hussein’s regime. During the Trump administration, President Trump claimed that the 2002 AUMF permitted the continued use of force against ISIS in Iraq, as well as authorized the use of force to address other threats from Syria and elsewhere. The 2002 AUMF was also used by the Trump administration to authorize the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.

The Constitution was crystal clear in giving Congress – not the Executive Branch – the power to declare war. The president may send U.S. armed forces into conflict after a declaration of war, following a national emergency predicated upon an attack, or after receiving “specific statutory authorization” from Congress.

The Latest

The Biden-Harris administration indicated its willingness to work with Congress to repeal the 2002 AUMF early in 2020. Multiple proposals to repeal the 2002 AUMF have been introduced in Congress, including Senator Kaine’s S. J. Res. 10, Rep. Barbara Lee’s H.R. 256, and Rep. Gallagher’s H.R. 2014. Under the leadership of Chairman Gregory Meeks and Chairman James McGovern, both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Rules Committee held hearings early in 2021 to consider the path forward on reclaiming Congress’s authority to declare war.

According to Brown University’s Costs of War project, the global war on terror has cost $6.4 trillion and 801,000 lives.

In advance of a vote on H.R. 256, the Biden-Harris Administration issued an official statement of policy supporting Rep. Barbara Lee’s bill. On June 17, 2021, Rep. Barbara Lee’s H.R. 256 passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. After decades of neglect, Congress is poised to finally repeal the outdated 2002 AUMF and begin the process of reining in the forever wars that have defined the last two decades.Most recently, in June of 2022, the House Appropriations Committee voted to include two amendments authored by Rep. Lee to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs in its annual defense spending bill. These provisions introduced by Rep. Lee would repeal the two AUMFs that have been used to justify twenty years of U.S. wars.  Similar amendments were added to the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act alongside amendments offered by Reps. Peter Meijer and Abigail Spanberger that repeal a 1957 and 1991 AUMF respectively.

What You Can Do

The nature and location of the transnational terrorism threat, as well as our understanding of what’s needed to address it, has changed considerably since 2001. It’s well past time for Congress to reassert its constitutional role in authorizing and overseeing the prudent use of military force. That’s why we support the repeal of the 2001 and 2002 AUMF and the passage of new time-limited legislation that authorizes the use of military force in specific countries against specifically named groups while enhancing congressional oversight and public transparency.

Call your representatives at (202) 224-3121 to ask them to support legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs before they take the U.S. to war in any more countries. We’ve spent far too much, with far too little public debate. It has to stop.

Here are some specific things to say: