The law that green-lighted the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq is still on the books ― but maybe not for much longer if President Barack Obama has his way, the White House said on Tuesday, two years after he declared the war officially over.
“The Administration supports the repeal of the Iraq AUMF,” national security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told Yahoo News, referring to the Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Obama frequently cites the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as one of his key foreign policy successes. He has repeatedly defended the pull-out, even as he pursues a strategy to leave only a residual force of maybe 8,000 to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014. His administration recently promised it would not put boots back on the ground in Iraq in response to the current bloody chaos that threatens its stability.
But leaving the Iraq military force authorization in place could probably come in handy if he, or a future president, wanted to send troops in.
The last serious attempt to roll back the law came in late 2011, when Sen. Rand Paul, R.-Ky., introduced an amendment to do so. On Nov. 29 of that year, the measure failed in a lopsided 67-30 vote with three lawmakers not voting. Senators of both parties told Yahoo News at the time that the White House had opposed repeal.
And when Obama laid out plans for overhauling the post-9/11 national security mechanisms in a May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, he promised to work with Congress to rewrite the AUMF for Afghanistan ― but was silent on the Iraq War law.
But “the Iraq AUMF is no longer used for any U.S. government activities and we therefore would fully support any move to repeal it,” a senior administration official told Yahoo News on Tuesday. “However, we have not prioritized proactively seeking to repeal it, because the effect would be entirely symbolic and we have many more pressing priorities to take up with Congress.”
Yahoo News had been asking the White House since a briefing with press secretary Jay Carney on June 13, 2012, to explain the president’s position on repealing the military force authorization. Officials declined to do so until Tuesday.
This is not to say that Obama had slyly been planning to send U.S. forces back into Iraq. He’s been clear, throughout his 2012 campaign and today, that he’s not interested in doing that. And there’s zero evidence that the U.S. public, and therefore, Congress has any appetite for Iraq War Version 2.0.
(Tip o’ the hat to independent national security writer Marcy Wheeler, who has been following this issue for a long time.)