Thanks to a pair of letters on Wednesday, Congress and President Joe Biden faced fresh pressure to end "forever wars" abroad and pursue a U.S. foreign policy that is "consistent with the nation's legal, human, and civil rights obligations, and the moral authority that the United States has long claimed on these issues."
"Regardless of your political persuasion, it should be clear that the United States should not be able to wage endless war around the globe, largely hidden from the public eye, without democratic debate," said Win Without War advocacy director Erica Fein. "The U.S. public has long agreed that it is time to end our endless wars. With a new Congress and administration, we finally have the chance to do so."
Win Without War and a dozen other organizations—Bridges Faith Initiative, Concerned Veterans for America, Defense Priorities Initiative, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Human Rights First, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Peace Action, Project On Government Oversight, Protect Democracy, Secure Families Initiative, September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, and Women's Action for New Directions—backed both letters.
"The war-based approach to counterterrorism of the last two decades has cost $6.4 trillion, resulted in the deaths of over 335,000 civilians, and displaced a further 37 million," noted Heather Brandon-Smith, FCNL's legislative director for militarism and human rights. She expressed hope that Biden will work with Congress to scrap the laws authorizing military force, shift U.S. policy "away from expanding global militarism, and invest in robust, effective non-military tools to properly address threats to U.S. security at home and abroad."
We're proud to join 20+ other organizations in calling on Congress to sunset the 2001 #AUMF and repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF!
— FCNL (Quakers) (@FCNL) February 17, 2021
The letter (pdf) to lawmakers was signed by an ideologically diverse coalition of 25 groups who want Congress to "reorient U.S. foreign policy away from the unaccountable, interventionist approach we've seen for nearly two decades" by sunsetting the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and repealing the 2002 Iraq AUMF.
Enacted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, "the 2001 AUMF has served as a blank check for endless, global war under multiple presidents," the letter notes, pointing out that "three successive presidents have used the law to unilaterally expand the nation's use of military force."
The 2002 Iraq AUMF, the letter further notes, "is not required for any ongoing military activities, as the executive branch relies on an overly broad interpretation of the 2001 AUMF for operations against ISIS, al Qaeda, and other groups."
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"However, both the Obama and Trump administrations expanded their interpretation of the scope of the 2002 Iraq AUMF beyond congressional intent," the coalition adds. "Most recently, the Trump administration cited it as a legal basis for the targeted killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, an action clearly unrelated to the original scope of the authorization. Retaining this law renders it susceptible to further abuse."
Emphasizing that Biden "has stated a desire to end the forever wars," the groups urge Congress not only to ditch both of those AUMFs but also to avoid expediting a new one—demanding public debate about "whether military force is both necessary and appropriate for addressing current security challenges and what, if any, new legal authority may be necessary."
The letter specifically urges lawmakers to support legislation from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to sunset the 2001 AUMF and repeal the 2002 Iraq AUMF. Lee—the only member of Congress to vote against the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, which led to the longest-ever U.S. war—reiterated her commitment to those goals on Twitter:
I've been leading the effort in Congress to put a stop to endless wars and sunset the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs for years. Finally, we have an administration that agrees. It's past time we end them once and for all.https://t.co/0S3GgSArLY
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) February 17, 2021
The letter (pdf) to Biden, signed by 23 groups, praises him for "wisely" committing to ending "endless wars" as a candidate and calls on him to deliver on that promise.
"Now, as president, you have the authority, and responsibility, to rethink and reshape the United States' approach to national and human security based on a realistic assessment of challenges, threats, and priorities; sound strategy; and clear objectives," the letter says. "And you have an obligation to ensure that U.S. policy and practice are consistent with the nation's legal, human, and civil rights obligations, and the moral authority that the United States has long claimed on these issues."
"Continuing down the path of endless war is not only unpopular and harmful, it is also unwise and unnecessary," the letter continues. "The United States has a robust array of diplomatic, law enforcement, peacebuilding, development, and other resources to mitigate actual security concerns abroad and at home. The United States need not, therefore, remain in this harmful, counterproductive, and costly state."
The groups lay out specific steps that Biden can take to "end the cycle of endless war of the last two decades":
- End operations under the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs;
- End war-based approaches to detention, trial, and lethal force;
- Adopt an appropriately tailored and rights-respecting approach to security;
- Use military force only as a last resort and with authorization from Congress;
- Insist on essential safeguards in any future AUMFs; and
- Support war powers reform efforts in Congress.
"One of the primary reasons we find ourselves in 'forever wars' is because Congress has abdicated its responsibility in matters of war and peace," said Nate Anderson, executive director for Concerned Veterans for America. "If President Biden is serious about his commitment to ending our forever wars, his administration should wholeheartedly support this bipartisan effort to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs."