Crisis in Afghanistan puts spotlight on presidential war powers

Crisis in Afghanistan puts spotlight on presidential war powers
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The rapid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has put a new spotlight on presidential war powers that Congress has suddenly become eager to revoke.

Republicans and Democrats say the lack of a coherent strategy in Afghanistan is partly to blame for the Taliban takeover, which has put thousands of trapped Americans and Afghan allies at risk.

The U.S. military operations in Afghanistan were first authorized by a near-unanimous vote of Congress in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Two decades later, lawmakers in both parties lament not reining in their original Authorization for Use of Military Force, first granted to President George W. Bush and used by the three subsequent presidential administrations to continue an increasingly ill-defined mission in Afghanistan.

“The U.S. mission in Afghanistan morphed into a nation-building project that was well beyond the scope authorized in the 2001 AUMF,” Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, told the Washington Examiner.

Cardin is among a group of lawmakers who have long sought to revise the AUMF with a more defined strategy for countering terrorism in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

But, Cardin noted, Congress has resisted rescinding the AUMF.

“Accordingly, the U.S. found itself drawn inexorably into an open-ended commitment to bolster a government and a military that did not share our goals for their self-sufficiency,” Cardin said.

Republicans are also increasingly clamoring Congress to step in and take back the 2001 AUMF.

Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, told the Washington Examiner he believes the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan could have been avoided if Congress and the White House had hammered out a new AUMF that defined the U.S. military mission, including how many troops to keep stationed in the country.

Critics blame President Joe Biden’s rapid troop withdrawal and elimination of air support for the quick deterioration of the Afghan army, which has entirely folded in response to the Taliban.

“Now more than ever, the U.S. Congress should debate and decide, and speak with clarity as to what our authorization of force is, or is not, with respect to any of the conflicts in the Middle East,” Roy said. “Not just in Afghanistan, but in the region in general.”

Lawmakers have been hesitant when it comes to authorizing new war powers, even if it means refining an old AUMF.

In 2013, President Barack Obama abandoned a planned military strike against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack. Instead, he sought authorization for the move from Congress.

But lawmakers refused to take up an AUMF, all while approving roughly $2 trillion over two decades in Afghanistan.

Neither the Republican-led House nor the Democrat-run Senate would bring up a resolution, which was considered political poison after the 2006 elections that cost Republicans the House majority partly because of strong voter anti-war sentiment.

Lawmakers in both parties rejected a draft AUMF resolution sent by Obama in February 2015 seeking permission to attack Islamic State militants.

Democrats thought it went too far in involving U.S. military in another overseas fight, while Republicans said the plan was too restrictive for the military to carry out the mission effectively.

But two decades after wars began in Afghanistan and Iraq, lawmakers are increasingly willing to vote on the matter.

In June, the House voted to revoke the 2002 authority granted by Congress to conduct the war in Iraq. The Senate will take up a similar bill sometime this year, Senate Majority Leader and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer have pledged.

There are no plans to replace the Iraq AUMF.

Lawmakers and Biden believe the 2002 authorization is no longer needed because the U.S. military fight in Iraq ended long ago. Democrats were also eager to end the AUMF after then-President Donald Trump used it to authorize the January 2020 drone-strike killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a top commander who targeted Americans.

But lawmakers and Biden do not appear to support simply revoking the 2001 Afghanistan AUMF and instead believe it must be revised.

Biden signaled in March he is willing to work with Congress to rewrite the 2001 authority to fit “a narrow and specific framework,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

The Biden administration praised Congress after the House voted to repeal the 2002 AUMF. Regarding future action to rein in “other” authorities, the administration said it “seeks to ensure that the Congress has a clear and thorough understanding of the effect of any such action, and the threats facing U.S. forces, personnel, and interests around the world.”

It urged leaving the executive branch with “the clear authority to address threats to the United States’ national interest with appropriately decisive and effective military action.”

Lawmakers in both parties have criticized Biden’s strategy for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and the resulting debacle.

Three Democratic-run Senate committees plan to hold hearings to examine what went wrong.

Both parties have pinned the blame on Biden, while Democrats say past presidents are also responsible.

“I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat. “We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”

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Roy said if Congress had acted to revise the Afghanistan war authority, the U.S. could have carried out a smoother withdrawal.

“Had we done that two years, five years or 10 years ago, we’d be in a much better place right now and could have had a strategy going forward with respect to Afghanistan,” Roy said. “That is the problem. The U.S. Congress hasn’t spoken — other than to throw money at Afghanistan since 2001."

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Tags: News, Congress, Afghanistan, Biden Administration, Taliban, Iraq War, War on Terror

Original Author: Susan Ferrechio

Original Location: Crisis in Afghanistan puts spotlight on presidential war powers

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