March 29, 2023

Senate Rejects Amendments to Open Door to War with Iran in AUMF Debate

Washington, DC – After the years of tragedy and disaster that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Senate voted today to repeal the 2002 authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Many advocates, including NIAC, have urged that the decades-old authorization be repealed to prevent it from being abused as a blank check for presidents to justify U.S. military action on Iran without any public debate or approval from Congress.

While this welcome news should have been a slam dunk, the debate on the floor of the Senate unfortunately demonstrated that many lawmakers still refuse to learn the lessons of the Iraq war debacle. To militarists like Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Iraq war was not a tragic mistake but rather a plan to be replicated with Iran. 

Sen. Graham forced a vote on an amendment to authorize military force against Iran-backed militias in Iraq, which was rejected 36-60. When the U.S. and Iran-backed groups engaged in dangerous tit-for-tat strikes in Syria last week, Sen. Graham lamented that, in the midst of last week’s tit-for-tat strikes involving the U.S. and Iran-backed groups in Syria last week, the Senate had sent a “terrible signal” by advancing the repeal “without any effort to replace it with one focused on using force against Iranian backed militias.” 

Similarly, Sen. Cruz forced his own vote this week on an amendment to assert that the Constitution “empowers the president to use force against forces of Iran, a state responsible for conducting and directing attacks against United States forces in the Middle East and to take actions for the purpose of ending Iran’s escalation of attacks on, and threats to, United States interests.” This amendment would have granted broad authority to the administration to attack Iran, without geographic limitations or expiration date,- providing an open door to expand hostilities with Iran.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), one of the leads on repeal, warned against the Cruz amendment on the Senate floor and stated “These are not Iran authorizations. Iran and Iraq are not the same nation. The wars against Iraq are over and we need to repeal these.” The Cruz amendment was voted down 41-55

NIAC along with anti-war allies strongly opposed both amendments and encouraged Senators to reject them, in addition to separate amendments that would have slow-walked repeal. Fortunately, rationality prevailed and efforts to mark the 20th anniversary of the Iraq invasion with a pre-authorization for war with Iran were soundly rejected by a majority of the Senate. 

Ultimately, the resolution to repeal the 2002 authorization to use military force – in addition to a separate resolution authorizing the 1991 Persian Gulf War – passed by a vote of 66-30. 

The path ahead for repeal in the House of Representatives is, regrettably, not straight forward. While repeal of the 2002 AUMF passed the House of Representatives in the last Congress, control has flipped to Republicans in the current Congress who may seek to pick up various Iran-related measures that failed in the Senate. 

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