In joint testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Congress should not repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) it passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that has led to an unprecedented US military footprint across the globe. They further testified that any new legislation should not place any geographic or time constraints on military action, effectively requesting that Congress cede much of its constitutionally provided war powers authority to the White House and the Pentagon.
Their testimonies came amid increasing Congressional scrutiny of the US military presence in Niger following the deaths of four Army Special Forces members in an ambush, and President Trump’s signing of an executive order authorizing a mini-draft of retired military personnel. Since 2001, active US military personnel, excluding Marines at sea, have deployed to 150 nations, roughly 73% of the world.
National security officials argue that this, and its legal basis in the AUMF, are essential to countering transnational threats like those presented by groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Others, like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, have argued that the existing AUMF has led to overreach by the military and shut Congress out of war-making decisions. Speaking on the Senate floor in September, Senator Paul said “I don’t think that anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty believes that these authorizations from 16 years ago and 14 years ago … authorized war in seven different countries.”
In their testimonies, Mattis and Tillerson said that any attempts by Congress to sunset the AUMF and regain control over America’s wars would send the wrong signal to America’s enemies and allies. Republican Senator Jeff Flake rebutted their assertion though, echoing Senator Paul and saying that when it comes to making war, “We have to make sure that our adversaries and our allies and most importantly our troops know that we speak with one voice.”