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A Refresher Course On The AUMF: John Avlon Explains

Was it supposed to be a blank check for military action?
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John Avlon does a Reality Check segment on our old war buddy, the AUMF.

"So wars are easy to get into, but difficult to get out of. To see if you can follow how we got to this moment, the White House says that President Trump killed an Iranian general in Iraq five days ago under authority granted to him by a 17-year-old congressional resolution authorizing war in Iraq based on an attack on our soil carried out by terrorists who were mostly from Saudi Arabia. Clear as mud, right?

"Well, presidents from both parties have used the 2002 AUMF -- or authorization use of military force -- to pursue their own agendas. Now they are pushing to limit Trump's power to wage war in Iran before he uses the AUMF. It's trying to put a horse back in the barn after they've left the door open for years. Less than a decade ago, Republicans loved to call themselves constitutional conservatives and President Trump promised he loved it more than anything.

It's all about the constitution. and so important. The constitution, the way it was meant to be.

"The way it was meant to be. Given that the constitution gives Congress, not the president, sole authority to declare war, it might shock you to know that the last time Congress actually declared war was in 1942 against Romania in the middle of the second World War. but with Vietnam came the 1973 War Powers Act, which was designed to rein in President Nixon's actions in Cambodia. Since then, all of America's wars have started with these authorizations are force.

"After 9/11, Congress did just that against those who planned, authorized, committed or aided the attacks. That's Al Qaeda. Here's where it gets sticky. The sentence continues 'or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future attacks.' Get this. Only one member of Congress, Barbara Lee, voted against the 2001 AUMF. And she may have had a point because the 2018 congressional report says it's been used by three presidents to justify 41 actions in at least 19 countries, literally from A to Y -- Afghanistan to Yemen.

"Skip ahead to today and you can see why Vice President Pence tweeted some of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran. Remember that harboring part. Or the administration saying that General Soleimani was planning imminent attacks. That future part. Or Secretary of State Pompeo, back in April, claiming that Iran and Al Qaeda were connected.

"No doubt there's a connection between the Islamic republic of Iran and Al Qaeda. Period. Full stop. But there's a reason why presidents may be so tempted to rely on these AUMFs. Remember the last time a president tried to wage war the right way and go through Congress? It was Obama's infamous Syria red line. And when Assad leapfrogged that, Obama went to congress asking for AUMF but neither the House nor Senate voted on it. There weren't enough votes and Obama still gets hit over the head for allowing Assad to cross his red line.

"So damned if you, do damned if you don't. Presidents need the flexibility to defend our country and its key allies when needed but if we truly love the Constitution as much as politicians say they do, Congress should stop advocating its war powers when it's politically convenient. And that's your reality check."

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