It might surprise some to learn that after we supposedly ended the Iraq war three years ago, the original 2002 “Authorization to Use Military Force” NEVER EXPIRED. And it has even been used to expand operations elsewhere, such as drone attacks in other countries.
In other words, Congress authorized a permanent war in the Middle East, and as George W. Bush and Barack Obama have interpreted it, that authority is now used to do just about anything anywhere, however a president wants it done.
The Congressional Research Service confirms the original authority had no expiration date and has not been repealed. Therefore it remains current law, “although its continued effectiveness is questionable. Arguably, the president could rely on it to reintroduce forces into Iraq if he determined that Iraq once again posed a threat to U.S. national security.”
And there’s the rub, No. 1: Presidents get to define that national security threat. In Thursday’s press conference Obama vaguely cited threats “to the homeland” if Iraq’s insurgents are not put down. That’s more subtle, but in the same ballpark, as Bush Administration claims there’d be nukes over Atlanta and terrorists in your neighborhood Walmart if Saddam Hussein was not wiped out.
Here’s the rub, No. 2: Congress secretly likes it this way. Letting presidents make war without restrictions shifts responsibility, so that if it goes badly lawmakers can blame the White House and tell voters they knew better, that they would have done this or that to assure success.
That’s why, although Congress could repeal this unlimited authority at any time, and despite how so many senators, current and former, including Hillary Clinton, have recanted their vote for it, this Orwellian “perpetual war” goes on.