Why is it so hard for Congress to end the war?

March will evaluation 20 years since the United States launched its invasion of Iraq, and with it a wave of disastrous decisions that continue to plague American foreign policy. It took just over a month for President George W. Bush to declare victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces and announce the continuation of the reconstruction mission.

But the end of the war was not really the end of the war. This is true in the context of Iraq, where the American occupation helped aggravate of violence and instability almost nine years after Saddam. This was also procedurally true; to date, Congress has not repealed it authorization was enacted to allow the president to invade Iraq in 2003.

On Thursday, representatives in the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced a bill to repeal that measure, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of 2002, as well as the AUMF of 1991, which authorized US involvement in the Gulf War. “The 1991 and 2002 AUMFs are no longer needed, serve no operational purpose, and are at risk of potential abuse,” He said Sen. Tim Kaine (D–Va.), one of the bill’s sponsors. Sen. Todd Young (R–Ind.), another sponsor, added that “Congress must do its job and take seriously the decision not only to take America to war, but to affirmatively say that we are no longer at war.”

This is not the first time lawmakers have tried to repeal the AUMFs. But efforts to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs — as well as the never-used 1957 AUMFs, which authorized action against communist threats in the Middle East, and constantly uses The 2001 AUMF, which authorized action against any party involved in the 9/11 attacks—never came to fruition. Congress found it easy to relinquish its war powers; it was much more difficult for them to recover them.

AUMFs allow the president to take military action without first asking Congress, which is the sole body allowed declare war according to the Constitution. Congress did not officially declare war over 80 years. Wor yet, it is enacted laws giving the president more discretion in military conduct, less insistence on proper oversight. AUMFs served as blank checks to shield the president from liability for military adventurism.

The threats that motivated these extraordinary powers in the first place have largely disappeared. The Gulf War is long over, Saddam Hussein is long dead and there is no more Soviet Union out to wreak communist mayhem in the Middle East. However, repeal efforts have always stalled.

For lawmakers, repealing the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs should be a political nail-biter. Neither did the AUMF only the legal basis for any current US military action (and the 1991 AUMF hasn’t even been used since the Gulf War). Even if lawmakers are reluctant to engage in broader debates about congressional war powers and presidential overreach in conflicts, repealing the toothless AUMFs makes look as if they are dealing with these problems.

The measures remain on the books, but are ripe for potential abuse. Presidents used the broad language of the 2001 AUMF to justify military operations in at least 19 countries. Given the continued use of this AUMF, lawmakers have been far less willing to tackle it than others. The 2002 AUMF had a much smaller one footprintand it has not been the sole authorization behind any military action since the end of the Iraq War in 2011.

The AUMFs diluted the say of Congress itself in American foreign policy by redistributing so much war-making authority to the president. But some lawmakers are still trying to give up more. Last May, former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R–Ill.) introduced AUMF legislation that would allow the president to send US troops to Ukraine. And in January, Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas) and Mike Waltz (R–Fla.) introduced AUMF that would allowed president to use military force against Mexican drug cartels.

Even as some lawmakers try to officially end the wars, their colleagues are pushing for new powers for the president. Ultimately it is the American people who lose when it is no longer necessary for the president to advocate military force and face the political costs that follow.

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