Last Thursday the U.S. House Appropriations Committee unanimously passed an amendment that would — if passed by the full Congress — repeal, after an 8-month delay, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress just after September 11, 2001, and used as a justification for wars ever since.
Also last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors unanimously passed three resolutions strongly urging Congress to move funding from militarism to human needs, rather than — as President Trump’s budget proposal would do — moving money in the opposite direction. One of these resolutions, introduced by the Mayor of Ithaca, N.Y., closely resembled an initial draft that I had produced, and which people had successfully passed some variation of in several cities.
Some of the points made in the “whereas” clauses of the resolution are rarely acknowledged. This was one:
“WHEREAS, fractions of the proposed military budget could provide free, top-quality education from pre-school through college, end hunger and starvation on earth, convert the U.S. to clean energy, provide clean drinking water everywhere it’s needed on the planet, build fast trains between all major U.S. cities, and double non-military U.S. foreign aid rather than cutting it.”
I’ll paraphrase some others:
Trump’s budget would raise the military portion of federal discretionary spending from 54% of the total to 59%, not counting 7% for veterans’ care.
The U.S. public favors a $41 billion reduction in military spending, not Trump’s $54 billion increase.
Economists have documented that military spending produces fewer jobs than other spending and even than never taxing those dollars.
President Trump himself admits that the enormous military spending of the past 16 years has been disastrous and made us less safe, not safer. Similarly, U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn argued that wars generate terrorism, also known as blowback, rather than reducing it.
Blurting out that key point seems to have hurt neither Trump nor Corbyn with voters. Meanwhile three Democratic candidates for Congress in special elections thus far this year have barely acknowledged the existence of foreign policy at all, and all three have lost.
The reasons to de-authorize the AUMF overlap with the reasons to shift our funding priorities. But there are some additional reasons. The AUMF violated the intention of the authors of the U.S. Constitution, which was to require that Congress vote before any war could begin, as well as that Congress raise and fund an army for no more than a two-year period without voting to appropriate more funding.
The AUMF also conflicts with Article VI of the Constitution which makes treaties the “supreme law of the land.” The United Nations Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact are treaties the United States is party to. The former makes most wars, including all current U.S. wars, illegal. The latter makes all wars illegal. Congress has no power to legalize war by properly declaring or authorizing it.
If you accept the general consensus that laws against war should be brushed aside, and that the AUMF was initially acceptable, it’s still hard to make a case that the AUMF hasn’t become outdated. This did not purport to be an authorization of any and all force, but specifically force “against those nations, organizations, or persons [who] planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”
If such entities haven’t been found yet, it’s time to stop killing people in Afghanistan and start providing jobs to a few private investigators. More bombs will not help.
One of the reasons that suicide has become the leading cause of death in the U.S. military is almost certainly that we members of the public have less ability than do Congress members to imagine that tweaking an endless war year after year after year will somehow, finally, given just one more year, result in an undefined event called “victory.”
Even if you think a new AUMF should be created and all the wars roll on under that new justification, the first step is repealing the old AUMF that has helped create wars widely understood as pointless and endless.
Any Congress member wanting a new blank check for war, should have to take part in a debate, make their case, and put their name down, just like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and others who thought they knew what the public wanted, discovering later that voters had a different opinion.