Time to Repeal Congress' Blank Check on Wars
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress passed a joint resolution broadly authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against those involved in attacking our nation and to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States. I was the only member of Congress who voted against the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" because I knew some would use it as a blank check to wage war anywhere around the world. It is safe to say that if we knew at the time what the next decade would bring, I would not have been alone.
In the nine years since Congress passed this authorization, the United States has waged two wars at a cost of more than $1 trillion. Afghanistan has now become the longest war in our history - longer than World War II or the Vietnam war. Estimates for the total direct and indirect costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by their end range from $5 trillion to $7 trillion with more than 5,700 Americans having given their lives in these conflicts. As we watch an increasing number of lives lost abroad and jobs lost at home, it is clear we cannot accept a policy of open-ended war without accepting a less prosperous, less secure country for ourselves and future generations. Every additional dollar invested in war is a dollar we take away from much-needed investments in health care, education, infrastructure and clean energy that will preserve and create high-quality jobs, as well as ensure America's future competitiveness.
Unfortunately, my prediction that the broad 2001 authorization would open a Pandora's box has come true - and not just in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Domestically, civil rights advocates have challenged the legality of the National Security Agency's warrantless electronic surveillance and wiretapping activities. The detention center at Guantanamo Bay, operated under the pretext of "all necessary and appropriate force," continues to symbolize our eroding constitutional values. United Nations officials have expressed concern over lack of accountability within U.S. intelligence-run targeted killing operations, most notably drone strikes and related civilian casualties. Further, U.S. involvement or tacit backing of military operations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere shows that an indefinite pursuit of loosely defined global targets is opening the door to war without end. All this, and more, started with that fateful vote on Sept. 14, 2001. Encouragingly, we are hearing bipartisan calls both inside and outside Congress that America cannot afford, nor is it in our long-term national security interest, to wage endless war around the world. As long as the expansive mandate of the 2001 authorization remains in force, the politics of "victory" may result in an ever-growing U.S. military commitment.
Correcting mistakes begins with accepting them. So I have introduced bipartisan legislation for Congress to sunset and repeal the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" over a six-month period.
This legislation is not a referendum on any one U.S. operation, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere. The repeal of the act is about Congress restoring its constitutional prerogative in determining and defining the commitments of our country while at war. Anything less does a disservice to our military service members, our nation, and our democracy.
© 2010 The San Francisco Chronicle