Since President Joe Biden announced his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, saying “it’s time to end the forever war,” militants have bombed an Afghan school amid an uptick in violence, and the government in Kabul began readying for a fight. As Biden said, “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” and the decision to withdraw U.S. forces by September 11 is welcome news. But the “forever war” isn’t limited to boots on the ground in Afghanistan: Nearly two decades after 9/11, the U.S. is engaged in combat operations in some 14 countries, bombing half a dozen of them on a semi‐regular basis. Ending one deployment won’t bring an end to endless war.
Undergirding this vast military overstretch is the congressional resolution passed three days after the 9/11 attacks. Three presidents in a row have stretched the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force into an enabling act for far-flung, seemingly endless war. But as its language and legislative history make clear, the 2001 AUMF had a narrower purpose: empowering the president to target the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks and anyone who aided them. And, as Biden noted, “We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is degraded in Iraq,in Afghanistan.”
If so, isn’t it past time to repeal the legal authorization for the mission?
Unfortunately, President Biden and most of Congress aren’t interested in simply repealing the 2001 AUMF. They want to repeal and replace it with a new authorization broad enough to underwrite ongoing operations across the broader Middle East, from Libya to Pakistan. The danger of a replacement AUMF is that it will amount to hitting reset on a 20-year conflict, serving as congressional blessing for another multigenerational war.
Moreover, any authority Congress grants will likely be stretched still further by future presidents. Biden himself should be attuned to that danger. As a Senator, just after voting for the 2001 AUMF, he insisted the resolution was nothing like the Vietnam War’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: “We do not say pell-mell, ‘Go do anything, any time, any place.’” The 2001 AUMF has now been in effect over three times as long as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and it’s morphed into the boundless grant of power then-Senator Biden disclaimed.
The end of the war in Afghanistan presents Congress with an historic opportunity to break that cycle. No current threat remotely justifies roving presidential authority to wage war on multiple continents. To end the Forever War, end the Forever Authorization.
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