- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2021

President Biden on Friday committed to working with Congress to replace existing war powers authorities that have been the legal underpinning for U.S. military action in the Middle East for decades.

It’s the first clear signal from the Biden administration that it is on board with a bipartisan push to craft new versions of Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) laws that critics say have been stretched past the breaking point and abused by presidents of both parties. The White House‘s commitment comes a week after Mr. Biden authorized U.S. airstrikes in Syria against the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah that had targeted American forces in neighboring Iraq.

Powerful lawmakers of both parties said those strikes underscore the need for the White House to work with Congress and write new, updated war powers authorities.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Mr. Biden is committed to working with the House and Senate 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 AUMF passed in 2001 provided the legal grounds for the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban in retaliation for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also authorized the U.S. military to wage war against al Qaeda.

In the 20 years since its passage, the law has been America’s justification for going after other terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

The 2002 AUMF, meanwhile, authorized the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed militias last week did not rely on those laws. Instead, Mr. Biden cited America’s right to self-defense, with the belief in national security circles that the militias would soon launch fresh attacks against U.S. interests.

“The United States took this action pursuant to the United States’ inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter,” the president said in a letter to congressional leaders.

Still, lawmakers say the strikes prove that now is the time to more clearly define the commander in chief’s war powers. Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Democrat, and other lawmakers from both parties this week introduced a bill that would repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs. The 1991 law authorized the Gulf War and remains on the books.

“Last week’s airstrikes in Syria show that the executive branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers,” Mr. Kaine said. “Congress has a responsibility to not only vote to authorize new military action, but to repeal old authorizations that are no longer necessary. The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs that underpinned the war against Iraq need to be taken off the books to prevent their future misuse. They serve no operational purpose, keep us on permanent war footing, and undermine the sovereignty of Iraq, a close partner. I call on Congress to promptly take up this measure and for the Biden administration to support it to finally show the American people that the Article I and II branches can work together on these issues.”

The bill — co-sponsored by key Republican senators such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah — does not address the 2001 AUMF. The White House statement, however, suggests that Mr. Biden is also open to revisiting that law.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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