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Biden Announces Support for Senate’s Iraq War Authorization Repeal

The AUMFs have long been used as justification for further military action even after the U.S.’s supposed withdrawal.

President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium at the White House complex on February 16, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

In a statement on Thursday, the White House threw its weight behind an ongoing effort in the Senate to repeal the 1991 and 2002 Iraq war authorizations over ten years after the U.S. supposedly officially ended combat operations under the already heavily criticized resolutions.

The Statement of Administration Policy, a stronger form of a statement that emphasizes a presidential administration’s policy position, emphasizes President Joe Biden’s support for ending the two Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

If passed through Congress and signed by Biden, the measure could indicate a symbolic end to the U.S.’s bloody efforts in the country, while also closing the door to the possibility of future administrations taking advantage of the authorizations, as the Trump administration did when it assassinated Iranian general Qassim Suleimani in 2020.

“The Administration notes that the United States conducts no ongoing military activities that rely primarily on the 2002 AUMF, and no ongoing military activities that rely on the 1991 AUMF, as a domestic legal basis,” reads the White House statement. “Repeal of these authorizations would have no impact on current U.S. military operations and would support this Administration’s commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners.”

The Senate voted to advance the measure to repeal the Iraq AUMFs on Thursday. The effort is being carried out primarily by Democrats in the chamber, though it reportedly has bipartisan support, and was introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia). As it moves to the Senate floor within the next week or so, Kaine expects lawmakers to introduce amendments such as those that would still allow the U.S. to use certain amounts of military force in Iraq.

Indeed, even as the White House statement revealed, support for the repeal doesn’t mean opposition to the war itself, the basis of which many human rights advocates and leftists have heavily questioned over the years; after all, Biden himself was one of the 77 senators who voted for the AUMF in 2002 and in 1991, when it passed the Senate by unanimous consent.

The statement in fact clarifies that Biden would potentially be in favor of amendments still allowing military force.

“President Biden remains committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats,” it says. “As the Administration works with Congress, it will be critical to maintain the clear authority to address threats to the United States’ national interests with appropriately decisive and effective military action.”

It’s currently unclear whether the Republican-led House will pass the measure; under Democratic rule, the House has passed similar legislation with bipartisan support, but there are still enough war hawks in the House Republican caucus that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) may not bring it to a vote.

Anti-war advocates have called for the AUMFs to be repealed.

“It’s time we finally ended our forever wars,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), who struck a hopeful tone in a statement earlier this month. “Once the Senate does their job, we’ll make inroads in the House and get it to President Biden’s desk for signature. We are well on our way.”

Quaker advocate group Friends Committee on National Legislation celebrated the passage of the measure through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, writing in a blog post, “This outdated law — passed to defend the United States against the alleged threat of weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein’s regime — has been relied upon by successive presidents to carry out military operations entirely unconnected to its purpose over the last two decades. The authorization is not needed to sustain any current operations but remains open to further abuse as long as it is in place.”

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