Trump Administration Argues Legal Pretexts for Attacking Iran

Pentagon affirms 2001 AUMF doesn't apply to Iran

While President Trump and other administration officials have insisted time and again for months that they aren’t seeking a war with Iran, they’ve also spent that same time more or less constantly threatening war with Iran. This has raised a lot of questions about what the legal basis for such a war even would be.

Officials aren’t making it clear exactly which pretext they intend to use, but seem to be piecing together a lot of possibilities. The Pentagon is saying that their legal opinion is that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) doesn’t apply.

That’s sort of what State Department officials told Congress recently, though they left open some wiggle room by only saying they don’t intend to use the 2001 AUMF as a justification at this time. Clearly that could change at any time if they think the excuse would work.

And they’re already putting out trial balloons for any number of other excuses, including the 2003 AUMF to attack Iraq, which a State Department report suggested might apply if the war on Iran was necessary to “establish a stable, democratic Iraq.” This may be why officials are making Iran so heavily about Iraq.

On top of that, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has argued that Trump has unilateral war-making powers as the commander-in-chief, and could unilaterally start a war with a hand-waving claim of national security reasons.

This seems to be the one Trump favors, from his own comments to the media. Trump has said he is confident he has all the authority he needs, and argued after the recent plan to attack Iran, called off at the last minute, he didn’t believe he even needed to tell Congress about an attack, let alone seek authorization.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.