Biden supports Congress scrapping post-9/11 laws that led to ‘forever wars’

Joe Biden
Then-Vice President Joe Biden meets with U.S. troops in Maidan Wardak province January 11, 2011. Omar Sobhani/Reuters
  • Biden to work with Congress to repeal post-9/11 laws that gave presidents a blank check to wage war.
  • The White House said they aim to replace the laws with a “narrow” framework that protects the US.
  • There’s been growing bipartisan support in Congress to rein in presidential war powers.
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President Joe Biden intends to work with congressional lawmakers to repeal laws passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks that effectively gave every commander-in-chief since a blank check to wage war, the White House said on Friday, per Politico.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement said Biden wants to “ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”

The authorizations for use of military force (AUMF) on the table for repeal include the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF. 

The 2001 AUMF was passed only days after 9/11 with overwhelming support in Congress – there was only one dissenting vote. It authorized the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump interpreted this law broadly to conduct military actions across the globe. The 2001 AUMF – the linchpin of the global war on terror – has been used to justify at least 41 military operations in 19 countries. It opened the door for the invasion of Afghanistan, launching the longest war in US history – which has lasted for nearly two decades.

The 2002 AUMF, which was approved in October 2002, paved the way for the US invasion of Iraq. Trump cited the 2002 AUMF to justify a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, a strike that brought the countries to the brink of war. 

The law authorized the president “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.”

Biden voted in favor of both laws as a senator, later stating it was a mistake to support the Iraq invasion.

During the Trump era, there were growing bipartisan calls for presidential war powers to be reined in. Many in Congress felt they’d abdicated their constitutional role in declaring war via laws such as the military authorizations passed after 9/11.

These sentiments have carried on into the Biden era, with a bipartisan group of senators unveiling a bill earlier this week to repeal the 2002 AUMF as well as a 1991 authorization prior to the first Iraq war (Gulf War). The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, was introduced less than a week after Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria targeting Iran-backed militias. 

Kaine and other lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern about Biden’s Syria strikes, questioning their legality. The Biden administration did not lean on the 2001 or 2002 AUMF in defense of the action. It justified the strikes based on Article II of the Constitution, which designates the president as commander-in-chief of the military, and principles of self-defense under international law. But lawmakers have still expressed anger that congressional approval was not sought prior to the strikes. 

The Biden administration would work closely with lawmakers like Kaine in terms of the effort to repeal the post-9/11 military authorizations. 

“Tim Kaine has been a leader on questions of war powers throughout his time in the Senate,” Psaki said in her statement, via Politico, “and has helped build a strong bipartisan coalition that understands the importance of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.”

A spokesperson for Kaine told Politico the senator “believes that President Biden, who has a deep understanding of both congressional and executive responsibilities, is in a unique position to help America restore balance in how we make decisions about war and peace.” The spokesperson said Kaine is already “in bipartisan discussion with his colleagues and the administration.”

America’s global war on terror has killed over 800,000 people in direct war violence, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project, and the US government places the cost of the vast, convoluted conflict at over $US6.4 ($8) trillion. The war, which will officially enter its 20th year in October, has also displaced at least 37 million people. Repealing laws like the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF could help bring an end to the war on terror, or at least drastically limit the scope of US counterterrorism operations.