Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to declare war. With that in mind, in the 20th century several authorizations for use of military force have been passed by Congress to provide for “limited action” in reaction to specific crises, including the Vietnam War.  Those still in force include the 1957 authorization for use of military force to defend Middle East nations from armed aggression by “any country controlled by international communism”; the 1991 authorization for use of military force, authorized to implement a U.N. resolution demanding Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait; the 2001 authorization for use of military force, authorizing the use of force against those involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks (targeting al-Qaida); and the 2002 authorization for use of military force, which targeted Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq specifically. Each of these authorizations has been used by the executive branch as justification at one time or another for military actions beyond the scope of their original objectives.

It is Congress’ constitutional responsibility to decide when – and if – our country goes to war. We, the people who elect them, assume they will take that responsibility seriously, rather than simply letting the executive branch manipulate outdated authorizations to justify current actions. All of these authorizations for use of military force should be reviewed. After all, how many of our current senators or representatives actually were in Congress to approve them 20 or 30 years ago? How well do these old authorizations match current national security requirements?

But let’s focus for the moment on the 2002 authorization for use of military force, as there is momentum in Congress today for its repeal. That nearly 20-year-old resolution permitted the president to use American armed forces as “necessary and appropriate” to “defend U.S. national security against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and to “enforce all relevant Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”

A resolution for the repeal of the 2002 Iraq authorization for use of military force passed the House in mid-June, supported by both Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden. The Senate version (S.J. Res. 10) currently sits in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has 23 bipartisan co-sponsors. Organizations spanning varying ideologies and perspectives support the repeal, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, which said last year that “the 2002 authorization for use of military force has run its course … .”

The 2002 authorization for use of military force is no longer relevant. Saddam’s regime was overthrown in 2003, and a formal end to the U.S. mission in Iraq was declared at the end of 2011.

The authorization also needs to be repealed in order to prevent its being misused to justify unauthorized new military actions it wasn’t intended to address. The service personnel who risk their lives for us deserve a clear mission and authorization.

The 2002 authorization for use of military force simply is not needed. Even without relying on this authorization, the president has authority via the 1973 War Powers Act to authorize military action to defend the United States against attack.

Relying on an existing authorization for use of military force as justification for current military action is certainly easier than crafting a new resolution. But if our leaders determine that current U.S. national security concerns require force to be used in new situations, there should be a clear rationale that can be expressed in new resolutions, agreed upon by a majority of congressional delegates.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have publicly agreed that the legislative branch should reassert its authority over the use of military force. One way to do this is to retire outdated authorizations for use of military force, starting with the 2002 resolution currently under review. One would hope that both Sens. Collins and King will now voice their support for S.J. Res 10.

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