Congress Must Repeal the 2001 AUMF, Reassess Need for Global War


Last Updated on September 25, 2023.

Even after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the endless and unchecked “War on Terror” continues to harm communities in the United States and around the world.

  • In the years after September 11, 2001, the costs of the global “War on Terror” were horrific – hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced by wars that ignited further, unpredictable cycles of violence across multiple continents.
  • Despite shifts to relying on drone strikes and “partner forces,” these wars continue to harm communities with little-to-no acknowledgement or compensation, while a global war force posture places undue burdens on servicemembers and their families.
  • Decades of centering this war in our foreign policy has also warped our ties to countries facing extremist violence, where we too often prioritize training military officers who go on to commit coups over fully staffing our embassies.
  • It is past time for Congress to act. Rep. Barbara Lee’s H.R.2501 repeals the 2001 AUMF following an 8-month sunset, forcing the executive to explain to Congress – and the public – why 22 years of endless war isn’t enough, and maximizing congressional leverage over any new AUMF.

The 2001 AUMF has become an Executive Branch tool for waging global, endless war.

  • The 2001 AUMF contains no time limits, no geographic constraints, and no exit strategy. It has effectively become a blank check for any president, at any time, to wage endless global war without congressional consent or oversight.
  • Multiple presidents have used the authority granted by Congress in 2001 to now wage war against adversaries that had nothing to do with 9/11.
  • Thanks to the expansion of the 2001 AUMF, various presidents have justified U.S. military operations in at least 22 countries, and the total U.S. counterterrorism “bootprint” spans 80+ countries – well beyond Congress’ intent in 2001.
  • The post-9/11 wars have cost the United States an estimated $8 trillion through FY22, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

Going to war is supposed to be hard. 

  • One person having too much power is always a breeding ground for corruption and abuse – that’s why our system has checks and balances, and why the Constitution’s framers wanted the branch closest and most accountable to the people to decide whether the nation should go to war.
  • The Constitution’s framers were deeply worried about the power to wage war being concentrated solely in the executive branch, believing that no one person should have that awesome responsibility.
  • If a majority of Congress cannot agree that our nation should be taking military action, then we have no business engaging in that conflict.

No AUMF is needed to defend the United States against imminent attacks. 

  • The Constitution and corresponding statutes give the president, as commander in chief, all necessary legal authority to defend our nation against a truly imminent threat. 
  • The reality is that AUMFs are used to engage in “preventive” war, a counterterrorism strategy created by the Bush Administration that has abjectly failed over the past 17 years to address the root causes of extremist violence.
  • Our nation has the most powerful military in the world, adequate to defend against pressing threats. Repealing the 2001 AUMF will allow us to refocus on defending against imminent threats and no longer engaging in military misadventures that ultimately create more violence and instability than they eliminate.

Debate on existing AUMFs must reassess whether the use of military force is the right tool to address this security challenge, and wrestle with how the “War on Terror” has short-changed far more dangerous threats to our security. 

  • The threats posed by accelerating climate change, the spread of deadly pandemics, and the global rise of the far right greatly outweigh the danger from small extremist groups abroad. Replacing the 2001 AUMF with another open-ended counterterrorism authority risks siphoning resources away from urgently needed responses to these severe crises.
  • Any debate on a new AUMF must be focused on whether the challenges posed by violent groups that perpetrate terrorism have a military solution – given that the influence of such groups are most often rooted in their ability to exploit economic grievance and governance failure.
  • An AUMF is only part of, rather than the driver of, a comprehensive U.S. strategy to address this security challenge. Congress must identify alternative tools rooted in peacebuilding, diplomatic engagement, as well as economic and governance reform to keep us safe.

If Congress decides a new AUMF is necessary, any new authorization must:

  • Clearly specify missions, objectives, the adversary, and the geographic scope,
  • Increase transparency and reporting,
  • Require compliance with international law,
  • Require the executive branch to seek authorization from Congress to add any additional group or geographic location to the authorization, and
  • Contain a 2-year sunset clause that requires a public debate about continuing the use of force and compel another vote to authorize force following the sunset – if the United States goes to war, no Congress can shrug off the responsibility of reviewing whether that mission is meeting its objectives and should continue.
September 25, 2023