U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

March 25, 2023


Dear Fellow Marylanders,

As a member of the House of Representatives in 1991 and 2002, I voted against going to war with Iraq. The 2002 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), particularly, was passed under false pretenses. It passed because of the belief that Iraq was involved in the September 11th attack on our country, when in fact it was not. It was based on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be used against U.S. interests, and that also was false. History has shown that voting no was the right thing to do.

This week, as a member of the United States Senate, I joined my colleagues debating how best to finally bring an end to this chapter in our nation’s history. You read that correctly. Nearly 21 years after Congress first authorized the use of force in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, and 11 ½ years since the U.S. military formally declared the Iraq War had ended, we are finally repealing the authorization for the AUMF against Iraq.

We are not at war with Iraq. While the trauma, the injuries, and the lives lost during the last two decades still scar so many of our fellow Americans, and many more Iraqis, at least we can say that Iraq has moved beyond the terrible reign of Saddam Hussein. The daunting quest to help Iraqis build a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous country remains.

To that end, the limited U.S. forces in Iraq today are there at the invitation of its elected government, in a purely advisory and training capacity. There is no need for Congress to authorize the use of military force for Iraq. If issues develop with regards to protecting U.S. interests that may fall within Iraq that would require the use of the military, the president has that authority under Article II of the Constitution. He also has the authority given to him by the War Powers Act.

It’s Congress’s constitutional responsibility to declare war. It’s our responsibility to authorize when our men and women in uniform should be put in harm’s way. We have a responsibility to make sure that the authorizations for the use of that force are in compliance with our security needs.

This is not the only action we must take to protect our national security. A third AUMF, which Congress enacted in 2001 in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on our country by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, is also outdated and ought to be repealed. This authorization was fully justified and necessary at the time and I voted in favor of it.  It was necessary to go to war in Afghanistan to remove the very real threat that al-Qaeda posed from its sanctuary there.

As I have repeatedly argued in successive Congresses since 2014, this AUMF also is obsolete. We ought to repeal it and replace it with a new AUMF that more accurately reflects the threats our country faces today. 

Four presidents from both parties have used the 2001 AUMF to target groups that did not even exist on September 11, 2001, in countries such as Yemen and Somalia, far from the battlefield of Afghanistan.

Some have argued that these are “affiliates” of organizations that existed in 2001. Well, the concept of an affiliate is nowhere in the AUMF that Congress passed. As a reminder, Congress has the constitutional authority to declare war, and we didn’t in these countries. Yet, Presidents are using this to justify the use of force in places and against organizations never imagined by Congress.

No administration should continue to use the 2001 AUMF – that was aimed specifically at those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks – as a blank check for war anywhere and anytime.

In 2014 and 2015, President Barack Obama relayed his intent to work with the Congress to repeal and replace the 2001 AUMF, at the time the U.S. was assembling the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, but the effort did not succeed.

Now, President Joe Biden has reiterated the same intent. In the official Statement of Administration Policy on the bill we are debating this week, the White House declared its support for passage of S. 316 and goes on to say:

“Furthermore, President Biden remains committed to working with Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans form modern terrorist threats. Toward that end, the Administration will ensure that Congress has a clear and thorough understanding of the effect of any such action and of the threats facing U.S. forces, personnel, and interests around the world.”

So, with the president’s blessing, after we finalize the repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs, Congress should discuss how best to repeal and replace the outdated 2001 authorization.

This week, I will introduce legislation, as I have in previous Congresses, to repeal the 2001 AUMF prospectively. I intend to give the administration – and Congress – adequate time to come up with an appropriate replacement.

Surely, we can find the right balance of who, where and when to target terrorist threats against the United States, our people and our allies, over the course of the next two years.

This is a pivotal moment. Congress must act to reassert its rightful role in war-making authorities, as set out in Article I of the Constitution. We must take action on all fronts: repeal the authorizations of 1991 and 2002, and then move smartly and swiftly to finally repeal and replace the 2002 authorization.

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this and any other topics.