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Rand Paul’s Lonely AUMF Battle

Sen. Rand Paul is taking [1] a stand for Congress’ constitutional responsibility to debate and authorize U.S. wars:

A single senator vowed Monday night to delay the Senate from debating a must-pass, $700 billion defense bill until he is promised a vote to force Congress to pass an authorization for use of military force against extremist groups within six months.

A growing number of lawmakers have been calling for Congress to pass a new AUMF as the war in Afghanistan drags close to its 17th year. But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has largely been alone in his quest to force a deadline on Congress, as the chief agitators for a new AUMF, Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), have expressed a firm preference for crafting such a measure in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Paul authored an op-ed [2] explaining why he wanted to end the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs:


Because these authorizations to use military force are inappropriately being used to justify American warfare in 7 different countries. Sunsetting both AUMFs will force a debate on whether we continue the Afghanistan war, the Libya war, the Yemen war, the Syria war, and other interventions.

Of all the current foreign wars the U.S. is involved in, the one in Afghanistan is arguably the only one that can still conceivably be justified under the original 2001 AUMF, and frankly even that seems like a stretch at this point. It can’t possibly apply to U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen, nor could it provide any authorization for the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria. Each of these other conflicts requires its own proper authorization and debate, if only so that members of Congress are forced to take responsibility for the wars they have tacitly supported until now. The 2002 Iraq war AUMF obviously has no relevance to any conflict in which the U.S. is now engaged. The 2001 AUMF itself was so broad and open-ended that it has since been abused extensively by the Obama and Trump administrations to provide cover for whatever military action they have wanted to take, but the legal arguments they have made to defend their position are risible and shouldn’t be respected.

The issue here is not just that our policy of permanent war needs to be ended. We must also put an end to the executive’s habit of initiating and escalating wars without Congressional approval. This certainly concerns the current illegal wars that the U.S. is waging, but it also matters for future debates over military action. Just a few months ago, President Trump ordered a wholly illegal attack on Syria that Congress never approved, and yet faced no consequences for it. The next time this president or some future one wants to initiate hostilities against another state on his own, Congress must insist on its proper role as the only branch of government that can authorize war.

Paul also wrote a series of tweets giving his reasons for insisting on having a vote. These stood out to me as being especially powerful:

I applaud Sen. Paul for speaking out on this. Most members of Congress are content to duck their responsibilities, but he has refused to do that. Most other members evade the clear obligations they have under the Constitution, and in the process they allow the U.S. to be taken into one war after another without any meaningful debate or consideration of the costs and dangers that each new conflict entails. I don’t know if Sen. Paul will be able to shame his colleagues into holding a vote on this question, but he is doing the country an important service by shining a light on Congress’ craven enabling of endless war.

Update: It seems that Paul will get a vote [4] on his amendment:

Paul’s office announced he would get a vote Wednesday on the Kentucky Republican’s amendment that would repeal the 2001 and 2002 war authorizations after six months, giving Congress time to pass a new Authorization for Use of Military Force for the wars against Al Qaeda, ISIS and the Taliban.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Mitch McConnell did not respond to confirm Paul’s statement, but three Senate aides said a vote was likely on Paul’s amendment.

12 Comments (Open | Close)

12 Comments To "Rand Paul’s Lonely AUMF Battle"

#1 Comment By Dennis Brislen On September 12, 2017 @ 4:46 pm

Hear, hear!

#2 Comment By SeanD On September 12, 2017 @ 5:48 pm

Once again, Sen. Paul makes me proud to have supported his presidential campaign last year. (Oddly, the columnists of this magazine were decidedly cool on it.) I pray Paul drums up more support for this than just the usual suspects of Senators Lee, Cruz and Wyden.

#3 Comment By James Williamson On September 12, 2017 @ 5:53 pm

Brilliant. Only a REAL Republican could have made this move. Neither a Republican (or Democratic) Neocon would have the integrity to do so. Bravo.

#4 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On September 12, 2017 @ 7:55 pm

You’d think the (let’s euphemize) quirkiness of our present Chief Executive might motivate Congress to do its constitutional job, but I see no sign of that.

All that jibber-jabber about the Constitution, and they can’t pass a budget in regular order, decide whether to authorize military force, or hold hearings and put to a vote matters such as infrastructure, taxation, and immigration.

Puts me in mind of Lenin’s phrase, “parliamentary cretinism,” albeit with a different gloss.

#5 Comment By Fred Bowman On September 12, 2017 @ 10:22 pm

I’ve always viewed the AUMF as something that many in Congress used to “wash their hands” of America’s misadventures in the Middle East. Glad to hear that Sen. Paul is trying to “shine a light” on the abuse of the AUMF. The AUMF should have always had a Mission and Time Constraint attached to it with the obligation of the POTUS having to make the case before Congress if the Mission and/or Time Constraint had changed. Has it is the AUMF is so open-ended that it’s become a “rubber stamp” for American intervention throughout the Middle East.

#6 Comment By Anonne On September 12, 2017 @ 11:54 pm

Don’t forget Barbara Lee. She actually got something done, she got the House Appropriations Committee to repeal the AUMF but Ryan put the kibosh on it.


And let’s not forget that she was the only one to vote against the wars.

#7 Comment By James Hartwick On September 13, 2017 @ 3:02 am

The anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to be reminded of the issue of the AUMFs.

#8 Comment By Uncle Billy On September 13, 2017 @ 9:36 am

We have been in Afghanistan for 16 years and what have we accomplished? The Congress runs from their Constitutional responsibility of declaring war and simply passes resolutions giving the President to do whatever he wants. Why do we even need a Congress? What do they actually accomplish?

#9 Comment By Donald On September 13, 2017 @ 9:41 am

Good for him. And while I wouldn’t vote for Paul if I lived in his state, this is a good example of why Americans need to learn to talk about issues rather than simply latching onto a party or a candidate and adopting their views. In the real world politicians who might make you crazy on one issue are absolutely correct on another.

#10 Comment By OK. One More Time On September 13, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

Good luck to Rand Paul. I’m with him on this one completely.

Hopefully he’ll be more consistent and upfront about all this from now on. I was disappointed in Paul’s equivocations during the campaign last year.

#11 Comment By question time On September 13, 2017 @ 5:28 pm

“Why do we even need a Congress? What do they actually accomplish?”

Good question. Where’s the Tea Party these days? The deficit is going up under Trump – just broke $20 trillion. And Congress is doing NOTHING about stopping Trump from starting new wars. They’re cowards. They don’t want the responsibility. They don’t want to be held accountable for anything – not for blown budgets, lost wars, terror attacks caused by their stupid foreign policy, nothing at all. They just want to call themselves Congressmen, live off the taxpayers, get paid off by special interests and foreign lobbies, and get seen on TV.

#12 Comment By Monte On September 13, 2017 @ 11:09 pm

Good attempt….I can’t believe Congress is afraid of an important part of their Constitutional duties.