Yesterday, during a speech at the National Defense University, President Obama took an unexpected step towards the first real peace-time that America has seen since 2001 by advocating for a repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF.
“Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states,” stated Obama. “So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF's mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end.”
The AUMF was passed in 2001 as a response to the 9/11 attacks. Then-President George W. Bush pushed for Congress to allow him to take any “necessary and appropriate force” against all international terrorism, but Congress, recognizing the boundless power that that would entail, limited the mandate to only actions that targeted those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.
Even with this caveat, the AUMF provided the executive branch with unprecedented powers that were easily abused. To name just a few of those abuses, the AUMF has been cited as justification for controversial drone attacks, holding prisoners indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, and warrantless surveillance of the American people by the National Security Agency.
Regardless, Congress is not only considering keeping the AUMF, but expanding it. Recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearings have seen many push to allow the executive to maintain this secretive use of force against all groups that potentially threaten the U.S., even if entirely unrelated to 9/11. What Congress found reprehensible and unconstitutional in 2001, it is now supporting in 2013.
Thankfully, President Obama is not the kind of politician to jump on the bandwagon. In his aforementioned speech, Obama defied Congress and even members of his own party, simply by stating the facts: Al-Qaeda has mostly been disassembled and is no longer a real threat to the U.S. The U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan. We are entering a peacetime state. With the lack of a real, concrete enemy, there is absolutely no need to drag this dwindling conflict into a perpetual and never-ending state of war. And in this vein, Obama is not only openly calling for a repeal of the AUMF, but is also successfully pushing Congress to begin drafting a bill to “sunset” the mandate.
More transparent military proceedings? Giving the American people back their constitutional rights? Ensuring that other countries aren’t too scared to share intelligence with us? And a president who isn’t afraid to limit his own powers to further democracy? Yes please.