Senate officials are hoping to get to a final vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a military spending bill in excess of $700 billion. Getting to that vote, however, means dealing with all the military and war-related amendments in the bill.
Senate leaders appear to have decided that the easiest way to get around this is to severely curtail debate on certain particularly controversial issues, with an 89-3 vote today agreeing to limit procedural debates on the matter.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is trying to manage the debate, which is to say, dramatically curtail the debate. There are still major issues to be settled, however, with Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) both pushing major debates, on war authorization and transgender soldiers, respectively.
Sen. Paul intends to repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). The amendment is seen as politically awkward for some hawks, who argue that they want to create a new AUMF that explicitly covers current wars, but who are reluctant to see any limitations placed on the way America’s wars are waged.
That’s the 2001 AUMF problem all over. Though on paper it was intended to only cover 9/11 and the Afghan War, the authorization has been used by all presidents since as carte blanche to wage any war, anywhere on earth, in which the term terrorism can remotely be applied.
The fact that the existing AUMF clearly does not authorize many of America’s current wars has meant that in practice, presidents have totally eroded what limited war-making power Congress still claimed for itself. This has led to years of talk about an AUMF being drafted specifically for the ISIS war.
For the ultra-hawkish Senators, and none so much as Sen. McCain, a new AUMF necessarily means defining the current wars, which means limiting the ways they can be unilaterally escalated. At the same time, many of those hawks have publicly advocated a new AUMF, which means it would be difficult to justify repealing the old, obsolete one.
Sen. Paul is angry about the vote limiting the debate on his amendment, saying he intends to hold up the whole bill with his protest to try to convince them to reverse course and allow such considerations.
Paul noted in a new op-ed that the old AUMF is being used inappropriately to justify US wars in seven different countries, and that sun-setting it would allow for actual debate on which wars to continue and which to end.
This means a new AUMF would, for all intents and purposes, be a debate of all of America’s current wars, at least if the 2001 version was repealed. That would include not just the ISIS war, likely to be the focus of the new AUMF, but also older conflicts like the 16-year-old Afghan occupation, which President Trump recently laid out an open-ended escalation for.
In the end, Sen. Paul can’t hold up the whole NDAA forever over his AUMF amendment. It marks the latest in a long line of efforts by the Senate leadership to hold back an AUMF debate, something that’s been happening since 2013.
Antiwar.com encourages readers to contact their senators regarding this important issue. Contact information for your senators can be found here.