Congress is vigorously debating whether to sustain or repeal the 1991 and 2002 laws that authorize the President to use military force in Iraq. The debate raises fundamental questions about war and peace, national security, and the proper balance of power under our Constitution.
Congress must consider two fundamental duties as it debates this issue. The first is to ensure that the United States does not languish in endless conflicts based on outdated authorizations long after we’ve achieved our original objectives. The second is to ensure that our Commander-in-Chief has the authority to act immediately and decisively when necessary to defend American citizens and American interests.
That’s why I intend to offer legislation that once-and-for-all closes the book on the decades-old authorizations of military force against Saddam Hussein, but also provides clear and targeted authority for the President to act, when necessary, against the terrorists who still seek to kill Americans in Iraq today.
So far, two competing schools of thought have dominated the debate over these war authorities.
One school contends the authorizations for military force against Saddam Hussein’s regime are outdated and have been stretched far beyond their original intent.
I share that concern, as well as the concerns of many Americans who worry that, in the post-9/11 era, the United States has engaged in seemingly endless conflicts without a clear strategy for winning or concluding them. Our country has spent enormous blood and treasure throughout a region that remains in turmoil.
Until recently, Congress has often downplayed or ignored these legitimate concerns, preferring instead to cede military policy to the executive branch. Thus, Saddam-era war-making authorities have persisted despite being largely irrelevant to the present reality. The reaction of a growing number of my colleagues to this obsolescence is that Congress must take all Iraq authorities completely off the books.
Meanwhile, the other side argues while Saddam Hussein is long gone, Americans in Iraq today remain under continuous threat by Iran-backed terrorists and the scattered remnants of Mr. Hussein’s regime. They say the world, and particularly Iran, must be reminded of America’s enduring resolve to defend our people and our interests in the region.
This side argues that, if in the face of Iran-backed terrorism, Congress removes the Commander-in-Chief’s explicit authority to defend our people in Iraq, the emboldened Iranian mullahs will trumpet it as a victory and double-down on their aggression and terrorism in the region and around the world.
I share these concerns as well. It’s well documented, at a time when the Biden Administration is determined to appease Iran in order to resuscitate the failed nuclear deal, Iran is escalating its terrorist aggression against American citizens and interests. From July 6 to July 8 of this year alone, Iran’s proxies used rockets and sophisticated Iranian drones to attack Americans at Erbil airport, Ain al-Asad airbase, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Make no mistake, in doing so, Iran’s leaders are sizing up Biden’s desperation to capitulate.
America can’t limit its ability to protect its own citizens and interests as Iran flexes its muscles, one side says. But Saddam Hussein is dead, the other side says. They remain locked in an all-or-nothing standoff. To repeal or not to repeal?
But there’s a third, better way:
Congress should reassert its constitutional war powers authority over the executive branch by repealing the outdated authorities and replacing them with authorities tailored to today’s challenges.
I believe the American people expect Congress to provide the President with updated, clear, and targeted authority that will allow the Commander in Chief to defend our diplomats, military personnel, and citizens against Iran-backed threats in Iraq. Are we not capable of turning the page on the past while accounting for the challenges of the present?
I intend to ask this question of my colleagues and Biden Administration officials this week in an open, public hearing. This isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition in which we must either leave these authorities on the books untouched or cancel them completely. There’s a third way that both reject endless wars while also ensuring the President remains empowered to protect American lives and interests.
Too often in Washington, we find ourselves trapped in polarized, zero-sum politics. But these matters are too important for us to simply accept the usual, politicized false dilemma. Congress can do better. On fundamental questions of war and peace, the American people deserve our best.
• U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty, of Tennessee, is the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan. He is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
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