ORn September 11, 2001, the world witnessed a terrible attack on our nation that claimed thousands of lives and changed millions of lives forever. The events of that day fundamentally changed the way we view American national security. But the decision to plunge the United States into a state of perpetual war was made hastily, without the debate that such a momentous decision required.
Twenty years later, the United States and the world are much worse off from this leadership failure. It’s time to turn the page to two decades of endless warfare with a vague and ever-changing mission. While this begins with the removal of the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force from the law books, it will also require decisive changes in our foreign policy decision processes and resource allocation.
Shortly after the attacks, President Bush sent a 60-word blank check to Congress that would give him or any other president the authority to wage war against enemies of his choice. It was a radical resolution known as the 2001 authorization for the use of military force, or the 2001 AUMF. I was the only vote in Congress against the authorization because I feared it would be too broad, giving the president unlimited power to use military force anywhere, against anyone.
The human cost has been high: untold numbers of civilian casualties abroad, two generations of American soldiers sent to fight without any clear objective or supervision, and thousands of our troops and other personnel killed, wounded, and traumatized in action.
The war in Afghanistan alone has cost more than $ 2.6 trillion taxpayer dollars and killed more than 238,000 people. The 2002 AUMF, which authorized the war against Iraq based on fabricated claims of weapons of mass destruction, has cost $ 1.9 trillion and killed an estimated 288,000. Together, these two AUMFs have been used by three successive presidents to participate in the war in at least seven countries – from Yemen to Libya to Niger – against an ever-growing list of adversaries that Congress never foresaw or intended. The Bush, Obama and Trump administrations have further identified combat-ready counterterrorism deployments to Congress in at least 14 additional countries, which indicates that the AUMF could also justify armed combat in those places. Only 56 current members of the Chamber and 16 senators They were present at the 2001 vote, flouting the constitutional principle that only elected representatives of the people in Congress can send our country to war.
The results today are a perpetual state of war and an ever-expanding military-industrial complex that consumes an ever-increasing amount of our resources each year. Pentagon spending since 9/11 (adjusted for inflation) has risen by almost fifty%. Every hour, taxpayers pay $ 32 million for the total cost of wars since 2001, and these wars have not made Americans safer or brought democracy or stability to the Middle East. On the contrary, they have further destabilized the region and show no signs of finishing or achieving any of the goals set long ago.
Furthermore, many of these actions were essentially concealed from the American people through the use of funds from an account earmarked for unforeseen developments called overseas contingency operations. Congress appropriated nearly $ 1.9 trillion for this reason, making possible the continuation of military actions and wars in several countries, exempt from the budgetary rules of Congress. Fortunately, President Biden ended this budgeting practice this year. But two decades of reliance on emergency and contingency funding sources have resulted in less oversight, less transparency, and higher levels of waste.
It is time for us to end these wars for good. With a coalition of partners, allies, and advocates both inside and outside the halls of Congress, we are finally about to turn the page in this state of perpetual war.
To begin with, I worked with colleagues on a bipartisan basis to urge President Biden to withdraw troops from Afghanistan quickly and efficiently. He heeded our appeals and undertook an evacuation operation unprecedented in its scale, maintaining our commitment to withdraw the military occupation before 9/11. The ill-defined AUMF allowed the war in Afghanistan to drag on for two decades, even after we had accomplished the ostensible mission of eliminating the threat that al-Qaida posed to the United States. The challenges of our evacuation and the fact that the Taliban were able to regain control of Afghanistan despite our 20-year war simply underscore why Congress should not authorize indefinite military clashes.
For the same reason, it is not enough to withdraw our forces. We must control the executive power and prevent more administrations, Democratic or Republican, from abusing it. In my role on the drafting committee of the Democratic platform, I successfully advocated including a repeal of the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs in the Democratic Party Platform. In a historic 268-161 vote, the House approved my legislation to repeal the AUMF of 2002 in June, and the Senate foreign relations committee voted 14-8 in August to do the same, with both votes with bipartisan support. I also call on Congress to address the outdated 2001 AUMF. Any new authorization for the use of military force must include safeguards to protect against overreaching, including a clear and specifically defined mission objective, reporting requirements to increase transparency and accountability; and an expiration clause or timeline within which Congress must review authority, among other provisions.
Congress must reclaim its constitutional duty to oversee matters of war and peace. In addition to repealing these AUMFs, we must also review the broader statutes governing war powers so that Congress can more effectively control the presidential war, a project that is being investigated. seriously persecuted by my colleagues, Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Gregory Meeks (D-NY). But we have to go beyond just changing the law. We need to change our approach to the world, away from framing every challenge as one that requires military force as a response. When we use the framework of war to analyze the challenge of terrorism, we artificially limit the solutions available to us, displacing the political and diplomatic approaches that offer the only real and lasting solutions to America’s security.
Helping build an equitable world that values inclusion and human rights will not make terrorism go away. But it would dramatically reduce the space for terrorist groups to operate and weaken the real grievances they exploit. Not only that, but a US foreign policy based on support for development and human rights would allow us to pursue a proactive strategy in line with progressive values, rather than one in which the United States is constantly in a defensive position. militarized.
A new approach to foreign policy requires a significant reallocation of our resources to address the very real and immediate threats we face. The world is still facing a global pandemic. Hundreds of millions of people live in extreme poverty, and Covid-19 has driven many more out of the middle class. And the climate crisis is looming over us, threatening all the advances in human progress that we have made in recent decades. It is unacceptable to continue to invest billions of dollars in the Pentagon when the real challenges we face require diplomatic and developmental solutions.
A new and better approach also requires empowering our civilian foreign policy agencies to set the agenda. For too many years, we have outsourced our foreign policy to the Pentagon. Too often, the overwhelming human and financial resources that the Pentagon brings to foreign policy decision-making push diplomatic or development concerns to the back burner. Rebalancing our foreign policy emphasis will give us the opportunity to explore solutions that could be more humane and more durable.
The president has a role in correcting the mistakes of the last 20 years. But ultimately, Congress must step up. For two decades, Congress has not exercised its constitutionally mandated role of conducting adequate oversight, making appropriate decisions about budgets and resource allocation, and most importantly, playing the unique role that the constitution assigns us to make decisions. about war and peace. . The American people have made clear their preference for going beyond endless war. Congress needs to hear your voice and act.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee is a member of the House appropriations committee, chair of the subcommittee on state and foreign operations, and co-chair of the House policy and steering committee. As a member of the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, she is the highest-ranking black woman in the US Congress.
This essay has been published in conjunction with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law as part of a Serie Exploring New Approaches to National Security 20 Years After 9/11
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism