The new military action in Iraq is why Congress needs to vote on a new Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq. It’s constitutional, after all, since Congress is the only branch of the United States government allowed to declare war.
The problem with the current AUMF, outside of the fact it’s been twisted and stretched into all kinds of ideological knots, is it’s completely outdated. The over 15-year-old(!) document applies only to Saddam Hussein’s regime.
SEC. 3. AUTHORIZATION FOR USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES.
(a) AUTHORIZATION. The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.
Note the document does not apply to any non-state group in Iraq meaning there’s no justification for this week’s killing of Qassem Soleimani. Al Qaida is mentioned in the text, however, the AUMF only covers Hussein.
The other issue if the fact President Donald Trump’s own State Department previously ruled the current Iraq AUMF and the 2001 authorization of the so-called ‘War on Terror’ cannot apply to Iran although there is a bit of leeway.
“[T]he Administration has not, to date, interpreted either AUMF as authorizing military force against Iran,” Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Mary Elizabeth Taylor wrote to the House Committee on Foreign Relations last June. “[E]xcept as may be necessary to defend U.S. or partner forces engaged in counterterrorism operations or operations to establish a safe, democratic Iraq.”
There’s your wiggle room, although the rather fluid nature of U.S. relations with Iraqi groups raises questions on whether this State Department interpretation covers Soleimani’s death.
Popular Mobilization Forces, the group Soleimani was meeting with at the time of his death, is legal in Iraq and technically part of the Iraqi Armed Forces. Army General Stephen J. Townsend told The Daily Beast in 2017 he was pleased with the work PMF members were doing to fight ISIS in Iraq. The United Nations also praised PMF for their work against ISIS.
Things changed from 2017 to 2019 and 2020 with too many “unknown unknowns,” to steal a phrase from former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. PMF retains plenty of popularity within Iraq. Their members, along with the Iraqi government, were unhappy with last weekend’s airstrikes targeting Hezbollah and decided to protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The anger spilled into the embassy courtyard with walls set on fire and windows and security cameras were broken. Associated Press reported the organizers didn’t want demonstrators/militants to press further into the compound. The U.S. decided to blame Iran and kill Soleimani and PMF head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. What’s next is anyone’s guess.
All this chaos is why Congress needs to vote on a new AUMF to officially codify whatever the new goal in Iraq is for America. If there is one which is highly suspect. There was a clear mission in 2002 when the U.S. decided it was time to rid Iraq of Hussein. Whether it was a mission America should have taken is certainly questionable given the current situation in Iraq, not to mention the war in Afghanistan. However, the war against Hussein is long over and it’s time for Congress to pass legislation noting there is a new mission. This is one of their sorely neglected duties, despite the constant reminders from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Congressman Thomas Massie, and Michigan Congressman Justin Amash.
The better question might be why exactly is the U.S. still in Iraq? Is it worth putting more American lives at risk by keeping up appearances of ‘doing something’? Let’s not forget the Iraqi civilians who are dead. Are the Iranians or their militias allies a threat to America’s sovereignty despite the “Death to America” rhetoric from Tehran? Or is it just words meant to make Iranian leaders feel better about themselves and their positions of power? Better yet, reach a treaty with Iraq which allows the U.S. military to leave the country and end this ridiculous conflict which has gone on for far too long and drains too many resources.
Whatever the case, it’s time for Congress to follow its duty and vote on a new AUMF. All military operations in Iraq should end until a new AUMF is approved.