Sen. Kaine: Narrow the Scope of the 2001 AUMF

WASHINGTON — It’s no secret that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) doesn’t buy the White House’s claim that the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda permits the US-led offensive against ISIL. On Wednesday, Kaine went a step further; calling on his fellow lawmakers to “significantly” shrink the scope of the 13-year-old authorization.

Any such effort could be a standalone measure or be part of a push to repeal and replace the 2002 AUMF, which allowed the 2003 war on Iraq, with an authorization specifically focused on the war against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

“Congress in ’01 passed a brief authorization without a temporal limitation, without a geographic limitation, and . . . even the targets that were subject to that authorization are now very broad, multiple theaters of war,” said Kaine during an appearance at the Wilson Center in Washington. “We’re still at war” in different parts of the world “under that authorization 13-years later and administration officials have said that they think the war authorized by the 2001 [AUMF] will likely go on for another 25 or 30 years. That is unacceptable and we should be having a debate to significantly narrow that authorization.”

Kaine also cautiously accepted the idea of sunsetting the 2001 AUMF as a way of jump-starting efforts to draft a replacement authorization, when asked about it by Just Security.

“I think you could not let the ’01 AUMF sunset except as a pressure mechanism to get us to come up with version 2.0. There does need to be a version 2.0, if only to continue the effort against al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda continues to be a threat.”

Earlier this week, a group of 8 legal experts, including some Just Security editors, published a set of Principles, urging Congress to sunset the 2001 AUMF in 2017 as a way of keeping the US from becoming locked in a “debilitating state of perpetual war.”

Regardless of what happens with the 2001 AUMF, Kaine argued that any authorization for the fight against ISIL should include a narrow target list and sunset after one year, as he proposed in a draft ISIL-specific AUMF in September.

“I think there ought to be a report back and a reauthorization in a year” that would be mandated by a sunset clause, said the Virginia democrat.

Kaine admitted that a narrow target list, sunset clause, and a ban (with limited exceptions) on American ground troops included in his draft AUMF for the fight against ISIL are “controversial” topics that will take a good deal of negotiation to get passed in Congress. “We’ve got to get in a room and hammer those out.”

“There are important specifics where there are some partisan differences. You want to authorize ground troops or do you want to prohibit ground troops? What should the length of a sunset provision be?” 

About the Author(s)

John Reed

Managing Editor of Just Security (2014-18). Follow him on Twitter (@ReedJustSec).