House Democrats and Republicans broadly agree on eliminating an old military authorization that has given Donald Trump and other presidents a blank check to bomb the Middle East. House Speaker Paul Ryan will not even allow a vote on it.
One of the most curious things about U.S. military policy is that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force is still in effect.
The law, enacted in response to 9/11, grants the President of the United States essentially unlimited power to strike anyone in the world suspected of “international terrorism.” Congress never attached a sunset clause to this power, so it will never expire unless it is repealed.
Lawmakers in both parties have begun to question whether Donald Trump really needs a blank check to bomb anything at will. But House Speaker Paul Ryan will not allow the matter to be considered.
Three weeks ago, the House Appropriations Committee almost unanimously voted to add an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) to the defense budget which would terminate the 2001 AUMF. Lee was the sole member of Congress to vote against the original authorization at the time.
Numerous committee members from both parties said Lee’s arguments convinced them, and GOP chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen told her, “You’re making converts all over the place, Mrs. Lee.”
Furious, Lee took to Twitter denouncing the removal of her amendment as “underhanded and undemocratic”:
Ryan should be ashamed of himself for forcing Republicans to strip out my bipartisan AUMF amdt in the dead of night. What is he afraid of?
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) July 19, 2017
Ryan’s iron-fisted control over policy debates has prevented adoption of a sensible limit on presidential military power that even a significant faction of his own party supports. No wonder Ryan’s approval rating has plummeted in recent months.
Every day Ryan lets the AUMF stand, Trump is escalating indiscriminate military force in the Middle East, with tragic consequences. Already, airstrikes commanded by Trump have killed over 2,200 civilians, nearly as many as died in Coalition airstrikes during the entire Obama administration.
Many of Trump’s campaigns have been half-baked, like when he launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base and somehow left its runway completely intact. His special forces raids have gone equally badly, with one in Yemen resulting in the death of a Navy SEAL and several children, including an 8-year-old American girl.
As long as Ryan continues to shut down talk of war powers, Trump will continue to have military authority he is too reckless to handle, and the world will be that much less safe.