The United States Senate has backed a measure expected to clear the way for a vote to repeal two authorisations for war in Iraq.
On Monday, the chamber voted 65 to 28 to limit debate over whether to end two “Authorizations for Use of Military Force” (AUMFs) — one from 1991 that coincided with the Gulf War and a second from 2002, approved in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.
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That support exceeded the 60-vote minimum needed to advance the legislation. The final vote to repeal is expected later this week.
Typically, under the US Constitution, Congress wields the exclusive power to declare war. But with the two Iraq war authorisations, Congress granted open-ended authority to the presidency to exercise force in the region.
That, some argue, has allowed the presidency to gain too much power over military action. It has also spurred criticism that these “zombie” authorisations have fuelled “forever wars” that are no longer justified.
In the minutes before Monday’s vote, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey called the measure a means of exercising the chamber’s “most solemn duty”: to decide “when and under what circumstances” to send Americans “into harm’s way”.
“It is a recognition that Congress not only has the power to declare war but also should have the responsibility to end wars,” Menendez said in his speech, urging his fellow Senators to approve Monday’s measure.
Menendez also blasted the war authorisations as “obsolete and outdated”. He argued that US President Joe Biden has “sufficient authority to defend against threats” without them, pointing to recent military air raids in Syria.
“If we’re going to debate whether to provide the president additional authorities, then we should have that debate separately. But it should not be under the cloak of keeping old authorisations on the book, authorisations that are not needed to meet any current threat,” Menendez said.
But several of his Republican colleagues in the Senate took to the floor to argue in favour of retaining the Iraq war authorisations, on the basis that a repeal might limit the US’s ability to take action in the Middle East.
Texas Senator John Cornyn, for instance, asserted that while the political situation in Iraq has changed, the threats to US interests remained. He also cited Iraqi security as a motivation.
“American forces are no longer there to counter threats from Iraq. We are now there to counter threats to Iraq. That includes threats from Iran, the number-one state sponsor of international terrorism,” Cornyn said in his speech.
“Despite the fact that Iraq is now our partner, that doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon our security interests in the region. America still has very real adversaries in the Middle East who would do us and our allies harm if they go the chance.”
South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, delivered a fiery speech saying that repealing the war authorisations would embolden US adversaries.
“Here’s what you’re doing. You’re sending the signal by doing this that we’re leaving. We’re withdrawing. That we don’t have the will as a nation to see this thing through. There’s nothing good that comes from this,” he said, ending his speech by calling the prospect of a repeal “one of the most ill-conceived ideas after 9/11”.
On Twitter after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the chamber would vote on the final passage of the repeal later this week.
“Americans want to see an end to endless wars in the Middle East,” he wrote.