“After 20 years, this is a defining moment.... We should not just declare wars, but we need to be able to end them as well.”
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following remarks on the Senate Floor in support of Senate approval of S. 316, a bill to repeal the authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) against Iraq.
“When authorizations for military force have outlived the purpose that Congress intended, we should repeal them. We should repeal them to ensure that Congress determines when to send Americans into harm’s way; so that our laws reflect current threats and protect U.S. interests; and to guard against future executive abuse,” Chairman Menendez said. “Congress needs to repeal these authorizations for the use of military force to reassert our constitutional role on war powers. We should not just declare wars, but we need to be able to end them as well.”
Find a copy of Senator Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.
As senators, our gravest responsibility is deciding when to authorize the use of military force. That is a decision about life and death. A decision about sending our sons and daughters into harm’s way.
More than 20 years ago, we voted on whether to authorize the use of military force against Iraq.
Decades later, we have a chance to formally end that war and claw back an outdated authority.
When authorizations for military force have outlived the purpose that Congress intended we should repeal them.
We should repeal them to ensure that Congress determines when to send Americans into harm’s way; so that our laws reflect current threats and protect U.S. interests; and to guard against future executive abuse.
It has taken a long time to get here.
I want to commend Senators Kaine and Young—two esteemed members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who have been pursuing repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs against Iraq for years.
I applaud their relentless focus on this issue.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we cannot ignore its heavy toll. It destabilized the Middle East. It empowered Iran. It turned Al Qa’eda into a regional franchise.
By some estimates, it killed more than half a million Iraqis.
It was a war that our partners in the region did not support, and it damaged American leadership on the global stage.
Most gravely, it cost our nation nearly five thousand lives. Americans who fought bravely and served their nation did not ask the question ‘whether it is right or wrong’—they just answered the call.
Now, I am proud to have voted against going to war with Iraq in 2002 when I served in the House. I believe history has proven that was the right call, but that is not the question before us today.
The Iraq of 2023 is far different than the Iraq of 2003.
Today, Iraq is a critical strategic partner. We fight ISIS together. We protect American personnel and American assets together.
But this relationship also goes far beyond security.
We are partnering on health, education, and climate change. We are working to stabilize global energy markets together.
Repealing these outdated authorizations would cement this important relationship with serious bilateral diplomacy.
It will help Iraq chart a course for the future that is independent and more closely integrated with its Arab neighbors.
It also removes a major Iranian talking point—however false—that the United States is a colonial power in Iraq.
Now, there are real threats in this part of the world. We must be clear-eyed about those. But the answer to those threats is not the 1991 or 2002 AUMF.
I know when we get to amendments, my colleagues will offer amendments to this bill. They will try to delay repeal. They will argue we need these authorizations to respond to Iranian-led and Iranian-backed attacks.
They may even offer amendments to expand these authorizations and give the president even broader authority.
But I urge my colleagues to remember this: the President is clear in his view that he has the authority under the 2001 AUMF and the Constitution for defensive military operations against ISIS or Iranian-threats against U.S. personnel and interests.
In fact, the President has responded to Iranian-led and Iranian-backed attacks repeatedly, and has done so without relying on the 2002 AUMF.
Take it from me, as someone who has worked for decades to confront the challenge of Iran, I know well the threat that Iran poses to us and to our allies in the region.
We cannot be naïve about its intentions, and we need to have the political will to respond how and when we deem necessary.
Repeal will have no impact on our ability to defend U.S. interests against Iran.
After 20 years, this is a defining moment.
Congress needs to repeal these authorizations for the use of military force to reassert our constitutional role on war powers. We should not just declare wars, but we need to be able to end them as well.
And let’s be clear: this is not some theoretical debate. This is about the lives of our servicemen and women who may be called upon to fight and make the ultimate sacrifice.
In our democracy, those decisions must be made by Congress.
So I am proud that we are stepping up to have the difficult debates that we should have, and I look forward to passing this bill with a strong bipartisan vote as it passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the authorizations for use of military force.
The bipartisan Committee vote should be reflected in a bipartisan vote here. I urge my colleagues to vote to repeal these authorizations.”
These remarks have been edited lightly for clarity.