It’s time to end Trump’s blank check for war

72 hours after the 9/11 attacks, every Member of Congress, save one, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), voted to give then-President Bush the authority to go to war against the perpetrators of those attacks. 17 years later, that authority is still being used as the basis for U.S. military action around the world.

Congresswoman Lee’s argument was simple: the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) was a blank check for war. Her opposition earned her death threats, requiring protective service. Nearly 17 years later, it is more clear than ever that Rep. Lee was right.

With 60 short words, the 2001 AUMF unleashed what would become the longest war in American history. It has been used to justify military force not just in Afghanistan to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban but in at least 14 total countries. Fulfilling those missions has cost the United States trillions of dollars and the lives of thousands of service members, and has killed countless civilians in the crossfire.

Those are staggering costs. And yet, what’s even more shocking is how much of a complete failure the entire endeavor has been. In the words of one congressionally mandated independent analysis conducted just last year, “Al-Qaeda today is larger, more agile, and more resilient than it was in 2001.” But today’s so-called “war on terror” has spiraled well beyond al Qaeda, with American forces fighting extremists from Niger to Yemen to Syria to Somalia, many in organizations that didn’t even exist in 2001.

This blank check for war has given us an endless war, just like Rep. Lee predicted. And the longer we keep fighting it, the more we and the people of the world keep losing.

We’ve tried big wars. We’ve tried small wars. We’ve tried arming and training local forces to do the fighting. We’ve even tried using a fleet of flying killer robots. And it’s all yielded the same result. Failure.

Yet astoundingly, some in the United States Congress have decided it’s time to double down and write a new — even bigger — blank check. Earlier this spring, Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced a new war authorization with the stated intention of “reining in” the president’s ability to wage worldwide, endless war. But the problem is, their bill does no such thing. In fact, this new AUMF is an even more dangerous blank check for war. And if we don’t step in and stop it soon, it may just become law.

The Corker-Kaine war authorization would double down on our failed policies by codifying the use of force against everyone the United States is fighting already fighting under the auspices of the 2001 law (it names 8 groups in total.) Even scarier, the bill then turns the Constitution completely on its head by giving the president the authority to add to that list of organizations and countries with just an FYI to Congress. Congress can technically vote to reject that move — but only after two months (an eternity in modern warfare), and only by a huge margin. The fact is, once the president has single-handedly started a new war, it would be nearly impossible to slam on the brakes.

The two provisions designed to be “constraints” are: (1) a limit on the president making nation-states targets under the war authorization and (2) a requirement that Congress review the legislation every four years. However, upon closer examination, both become meaningless.

Take Iran, for example. It’s true that if the Corker-Kaine war authorization became law, Donald Trump could not claim it gives him license to go to war with Iran. But he could, in theory, use it to go to war against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps by claiming that they are affiliated with al Qaeda, an argument his own Secretary of State and National Security Advisor have spent considerable energy making over the years.

As for the congressional review, instead of a traditional sunset which would mean that if Congress didn’t agree to renew the war authorization it would automatically terminate, Corker-Kaine would once again flip this on its head. Inaction by Congress would lead to automatic re-authorization rather than repeal. Let me ask you which is more likely, Congressional action to repeal it or inaction to leave it in place? Exactly.

The reality is that Sens. Corker and Kaine have ignored the very reason that the Founders put the power to declare war firmly in Congress’ hands in the first place. In explaining themselves in the Federalist Papers, the Constitution’s authors made clear that, having seen countless European wars fought by kings and queens, often for petty personal grievances, they wanted it to be hard for the president to go to war. They didn’t want one person, any single president (and certainly not THIS president) to be able to take our nation to war by themselves. So they gave that power to the branch of government directly accountable to the people: Congress. They didn’t expect Congress to be functional or even to be able to agree. In fact, they were counting on that dysfunction and disagreement to make going to war extremely difficult. They wanted it to be hard. They wanted us to get a say.

And that’s what we have to do now. Senators are deciding whether they’re going to support the Corker-Kaine war authorization. They’re debating whether or not to double down on an endless, failing war on terrorism. And we have to be part of this debate. We have to make going to war hard.

It’s up to us to demand that our Senators learn the lessons of 17 years of failure. It’s up to us to demand that our Senators heed Representative Barbara Lee’s warning from 2001 that we must never give the President a blank check for war. And it’s up to us to tell the Senate to reject the Corker-Kaine blank check for endless war.

CREDO and Win Without War are mobilizing allies and activists together to end Trump’s blank check for war. If you’d like to take action, please click here.

Stephen Miles is the director of Win Without War, a powerful community working to build a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. They combine a diverse national coalition with people-powered campaigns and advocacy to drive a progressive, values-based U.S. foreign policy. CREDO members voted to donate over $57,000 to the Win Without War in 2017. To learn more about who we fund and how we distribute our donations, visit