Recently, the US Senate voted on a bipartisan basis to rescind the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq. President Biden, who voted for that AUMF in 2003, has said he will sign it if it gets to his desk.
At this writing, it is unclear if the U.S. House will post the rescission for a vote and, if so, whether it will pass in that chamber. I fervently hope that it will, so one of the most notorious episodes in U.S. history can be peacefully laid to rest.
If that does happen, it would be a strong parallel to the rescission of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution by the U.S. Senate in 2009. That AUMF in 1964 was also based on deception and authorized the U.S. military intervention in Vietnam, which became the greatest American debacle of that era.
But far more important, rescinding the Iraq AUMF would repudiate deception and manipulation by any Presidential Administration as happened with the George W. Bush Administration in getting Congress to support it. It would also discourage open-ended Congressional AUMFs with no expiration date, which so far has allowed the one in Iraq to continue for two decades. In short, it would re-establish the Constitutional principle that only Congress can declare war, and repudiate the decades-long trend toward an imperial US presidency.
In the lead-up to the U.S. attack on Iraq 20 years ago, as the executive director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action, I helped lead intensive organizing to try to prevent it.
We organized numerous demonstrations opposing the Bush administration’s campaign to start a war with Iraq, including joining a demonstration of over 1 million in New York City shortly before the March 19, 2003 invasion. With demonstrations worldwide attended by tens of millions, it was the largest anti-war mobilization in history to try to prevent a war.
We also did intensive lobbying in opposition to the Bush Administration’s AUMF to authorize the war. I remember being in a delegation that met with the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg shortly before the vote, at which he shared that he couldn’t justify sending his own son to that war so had decided to vote against it.
Starting in August 2002, there was an intense mobilization by the Bush Administration with neoconservatives like Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to promote the war based on the deception that it was needed to prevent Iraq from using Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
That culminated with a presentation by Secretary of State Colin Powell to the UN Security Council in February 2003 asserting the same supposed danger. The Council didn’t vote to support it. We put forward compelling evidence that the Bush Administration was deceiving the American people into supporting the war, but it began anyway.
Years later, I had an in-person conversation with the Chief UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq, Dr. Hans Blix. He told me he had met in person with President Bush before he launched the war, and certified to him that Iraq had no nuclear weapons. He said he told him that if he were given just a few more months, he could certify that it also didn’t have Chemical or Biological Weapons. But Blix said Bush simply retorted that he had made the decision, and the US invasion happened shortly after.
Peace-loving citizens in the U.S. and across the world organized intensively to end the war. I’m proud that the Coalition for Peace Action played a leading role in that effort in our region. But it wasn’t ended until 2011 when the US finally withdrew its last remaining troops as part of an agreement in 2008, before Bush finished his second term. Over 5,000 U.S. Servicemembers were killed, and tens of thousands wounded—including countless returning US Servicemembers who suffer from PTSD to this day. And up to one million Iraqis died.
The U.S. House needs to complete rescission of this deceptive and extremely damaging AUMF. In January 2020, the Trump Administration invoked it to conduct a drone assassination of a top Iranian military leader who was in Bagdad, creating a grave danger of major war with Iran. Iran did a retaliatory strike against a U.S. base in Iraq. But thankfully, no U.S. troops were killed—though a considerable number were injured.
Wars of choice in Vietnam and Iraq have not led to peaceful American-style democracies, as those can never be imposed from the outside. We need to rescind the AUMF for the Iraq War, as we did with the Tonkin Gulf AUMF that green-lighted the Vietnam War. Readers wanting to support that goal can visit peacecoalition.org.
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