Fifty years after Congress repealed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which gave the president the green light to wage war on Vietnam, the entire Maine congressional delegation is seeking for the second time in U.S. history to repeal an authorization to use force.
They hope to end two disputes this fall, the first enacted before the Gulf War that pushed Saddam Hussein’s troops out of occupied Kuwait and the other approved the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Those seeking to repeal the Iraqi force authorization measures say they are no longer needed, given the fall of the Hussein regime. They warn that leaving them in place opens the door to potential problems in the future, with presidents relying on outdated measures to justify actions Congress might not support.
The resolution, which the US House has already approved, would repeal two Congressional approvals, from 1991 and 2002, that authorized military activity in Iraq.
If approved, it would be the first time that Congress has withdrawn an authorization to use force since the repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1971 which was approved in 1964 to allow the escalation of the war of the United States. Vietnam.
Thirty-nine senators are co-sponsors of the resolution, including 10 Republicans. The two US Senators from Maine, Republican Susan Collins and Independent Angus King, are among them.
Wary of presidential excess, Collins and King have long been supporters of ensuring that Congress preserves its constitutional authority over the use of force.
“Only Congress can declare war or engage our armed forces in sustained military conflict,” Collins said last year after stressing that “over the past decade Congress has too often abdicated its constitutional responsibilities by authorizing the sustained use of military force. “
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the resolution to repeal Iraqi measures two months ago, but it has yet to be submitted to the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told colleagues in July that he intended to move the repeal for a vote this year.
“Members must be warned: we are going to vote on this,” he said at the time.
Most or all Democrats are expected to vote repeal with enough GOP senators to make the threat of filibuster moot.
Democrats Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree, who represent Maine in the US House, voted with a House majority in June to repeal use of force authorizations.
Golden, a U.S. Navy veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, said lawmakers must stop handing over the power to the president to wage war as he sees fit.
“Congress after Congress has just sat down while the presidents of both parties send young Americans into combat without oversight or accountability to the public,” said Golden, who represents the 2nd Congressional District of the State.
He said he was happy to see “a bipartisan momentum” to repeal the authorization to use force obtained by President George W. Bush as he prepared to invade Iraq.
The repeal of the authorization is a decision supported by President Joe Biden.
Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told a Senate committee that Biden “is committed to engaging with Congress on issues of war and peace, and to being open and transparent about when, where, why and how. United States chooses to use military force “.
She said the administration supports the repeal because it does not need the outdated legal language “to protect the American people from terrorist threats, respond to attacks on our personnel or facilities abroad, to ensure the safety and security of our people, or to maintain our strong relationship with Iraq and other regional partners.
A number of Republicans have expressed concern that the repeal of aging permissions is part of Biden’s attempt to change US policy to be gentler on Iran, a country they describe as particularly dangerous. .
“It is curious that some of our colleagues who are the most trained – the most trained – in trying to revoke the authorizations to use military force are somehow also among the quietest – the most silent – when “This is the disaster unfolding in Afghanistan and ongoing conflict monitoring,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, told the Senate in July.
But the legislation does not address the 2001 authorization that allowed US military action in Afghanistan and against terrorism in general. It focuses only on the two measures that enabled the president to go to war in Iraq.
Pingree, who represents the 1st Congressional District of Maine, said in a prepared statement that “America has been at war for so long that sons and daughters born after these conflicts began are now old enough to enlist. . These eternal wars have taken an untold human toll, affecting the future not of one, but of two generations of Americans. “
After insisting that “these wars should have ended a long, long time ago,” she called on Congress “to prevent more endless wars by revoking the obsolete 2001 authorization for the use of military force â.
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there was no reason to leave her any longer.
Schumer said the provision approved by Congress 20 years ago “has far exceeded its usefulness.”
âThe Iraq war has been over for almost a decade,â he said, and permission is no longer needed.
“There is a real danger in allowing these legal authorities to persist indefinitely,” said Schumer. âAllowing a military force to remain indefinitely is an invitation to a future administration to use it for any military adventurism in the region. “
âAmericans, frankly, are fed up with endless wars in the Middle East,â he added. “Congress simply needs to exercise more authority over matters of war and peace, as we all know the Constitution requires.”
The repeal of the authorization does not mean that American troops will leave Iraq. His government has invited US military personnel to the country, so there is no need to send them there by force.
Richard Visek, the State Department‘s acting legal adviser, told the foreign relations panel that if the situation in Iraq deteriorated and required a sustained military response, the administration “felt it would be important for Congress and the administration are working together to develop an appropriate new national authority, suitable to deal with such a scenario.
What the repeal means in terms of restricting presidential power is unclear, as a 1970 opinion from the Office of the Legal Advisor to the budget office said in a memorandum on the consequences of repealing the resolution. from the Gulf of Tonkin.
“Since the inherent constitutional power of the president to use military force abroad depends to a very large extent on the circumstances of the case and, in particular, on the extent to which such use of force is judged essential for the preservation of American life and property or the protection of American security interests, it is impossible to state in concrete terms the legal effect “of any repeal, then declared the legal office, leaving the door open. presidents to act on their own initiative with or without authorization.
Since World War II, however, Congress and the President, regardless of party, have struggled to work together. It is a problem that lawmakers have sought to address for decades.
It turned out that the January 1971 repeal of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, a decision supported by the two senators from Maine at the time, Republican Margaret Chase Smith and Democrat Ed Muskie, proved unsuccessful. to end the war in Vietnam which she had authorized after her passage in 1964.
In 1973, frustrated by Congress’ inability to stop the Vietnam War, Muskie helped lead the charge to pass the War Powers Act, which sought to ensure Congress was not sidelined in war decisions. and peace.
At the time, Muskie said that “three decades of all-out war, limited warfare and the cold war propelled the American political system far down the path of executive domination in the conduct of foreign relations,” thus expanding presidential power. .
“It is no longer correct to characterize our government, in matters of foreign relations, as one of separate powers controlled and balanced against each other,” Muskie, from Rumford, told his colleagues.
He said there was no point “in complaining about how and why the power to start war passed from Congress to the President,” but it was time to restore the role the Constitution gave to the legislature. .
The War Powers Act, however, has largely gone unheeded, ignored by presidents and Congress in the rush to confront adversaries overseas.
Capitol Hill, however, has not completely given up on trying to maintain its constitutional prerogatives, as evidenced by the decision to repeal the two use of force authorizations in Iraq. Some hope to push for more supervision and control.
Golden has even scoured the law books for older resolutions that he would like to see repealed.
He is a co-sponsor of a measure that would repeal a 1957 measure that gave President Dwight Eisenhower the right to offer up to $ 200 million in military and economic aid to the Middle East from funds available to the era under the Mutual Security Act of 1954. Eisenhower relied on his language to justify the landing of American troops in Lebanon in 1958.
This bill, introduced by US Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, appears to be going nowhere.