tv Reps. Peter Meijer and Abby Spanberger on Authorizations of Military Force CSPAN December 10, 2021 1:28pm-2:02pm EST
watch book tv every sunday on c-span2 and find a full schedule on your program guide or watch online any time at booktv.org. representatives peter meijer and abigail spanberger talk about their records to recall the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force, with the atlantic council.
>> we have with us today two members who have clearly done that on the issue of reasserting congressional oversight of the nation's wars, starting with the repeal of the authorizations from yeas of military force. representative peter meijer represents michigan's third congressional district. representative abigail spanberger represents virginia's seventh congressional district. and they and others in congress have really led this effort. when we were looking for someone to host this discussion, we had tess bridgemen at the top of our list. dr. bridgemen is the co-editor of just security, and she has also written widely on this subject. in fact, i think it's fair to say much of what i have learned on this subject and especially what i have learned in terms of congress'work on this subject has started with dr. bridgemen. i want to turn things over to
tess. it's your show, tess. take it away. >> thank you so much. it's really wonderful to be here with these two members. i can't think of anyone better to have this conversation with. you have both really been steadfast in reminding us that it's congress' duty to start reclaiming the war powers that have been largely ceded to the executive branch over the last several decades. you both also have been matching with action. you have been writing legislation, cosponsoring legislation, trying to get it passed. you thought strategically about these issues. and you have reminded us that presidents of both parties have been stretching authorizations to use force, have been stretching their unilateral article ii authority. you haven't been treating this as a partisan issue. i thank both of you for really focusing us on that. so let's jump right in since our time is short. i want to start with what i think representative meijer has called the cleaning the non-2001
aumf decks, which is a good blaze to start. the low hanging fruit, if you will, of efforts for congress to reassert its war powers. we're talking just to make sure everyone is on the same page, about the 2002 iraq war aumf, the 1991 iraq war aumf, and the aumf from the eisenhower representation. represent tb spanberger has said removing these is a clear opportunity to show that congress is serious about reclaiming its war powers and serious about representing service members and veterans, which is i think an important thing to keep in mind. and representative meijer has said really colorfully, this old out dated aumfs are like zombies that can be brought back from the dead and used in ways far from the original intent and it's an end around around congress' authority.
i want to start by asking each of you why now, since they have been around for decades? why is now the time to repeal these outidated aumfs? both of you had distinguished service in the legislative branch as well. was the that experience or your experience now representing your constituents, and maybe i'll start with representative spanberger for this. >> thank you so much for the question. what's motivated me on this issue is frankly my background in counterterrorism. i'm a former cia case officer. and you know, i know first-hand much of what it is that the united states has been engaged in, in our larger global war on terror. and so when i came to congress, just one term before peter, so i haven't been here that much longer, focusing on aumf issues was very important to me for a couple reasons. one, it seems this is a very clear place where congress has walked away from its
responsibility. it's far easier to allow the executive to just run roughshod, to go about utilizing these aumfs, extenuating these aumfs, and the further we get from the dates and time thaz were initially voted on, the fewer members of congress who were there, the fewer members of congress represented their constituents as part of that conversation, and so the larger real change needs to happen with the 2002 and 2001. but making sure that people understand that in fact we still have them from, you know, from 1991. we still have one from many, many years ago, decades ago. and let's start, right, as we're bringing aumf discussion to the larger congress, 2001 is going to be a really difficult conversation. i think peter and i both know it has been a difficult conversation. but we can start that taking steps in the right direction by
saying do we still need a decades old aumf? remember our aumf that allowed us to go to iraq in 1991? it's frankly no longer necessary. so i think it's getting us into the practice of talking about aumfs, of recognizing these zombie aumfs could be resurrected. and really pulling people together on that path towards contending with the reality that we still have the 2002 and the 2001 on the books which are from a congressional standpoint something that we need to contend with. >> representative meijer, we would love to hear from you on this as well. you have written some very similar points to what representative spanberger just raised, but we would love to hear anything you would want to add. >> i think abigail touched on the key elements well. i would just say that i think
there's a shared recognition that the 2001 -- i mean, this is the war on terror aumf. this is the authorization that's been used in 19 countries against al qaeda, against groups that al qaeda was fighting, against groups that didn't exist on 9/11, against groups that didn't exist on 9/11 that al qaeda was fighting. it just gets very messy, very tricky, but that has basically underpinned the war on terror. all of the other aumfs, the '02 was used this millennium, and it has been used or it has been the secondary justification, not the operative justification, but the secondary. so it's -- there's a little bit of an argument. i'm not persuaded by it in terms of continuing or that there will be any damage if we repeal the '02. the broader emphasis here is that if we are going to go about the tough work on the '01, we should be laser focused on that. so before you go and renovate your house, you know, clean
everything out that's dusty and filled with cobwebs, bring it to goodwill, get rid of that stuff so you can deal with the actual task at hand instead of getting distracted by things that are no longer relevant or no longer necessary. but could still pose a hazard. >> good constitutional hygiene, as i think you have put it before. which is a nice phrase to use for it. but let's make this a little more concrete, and i think the phrase that representative spanberger just used, easier to allow the executive to run roughshod than it is for congress to show up and take these hard votes. we didn't used to worry about zombie aumfs. it was only in recent decades when presidents of both parties started using old aumfs for new purposes that congress never intended that this became a concern. and at the same time, the war powers resolutions fast track mechanism for forcing the president to remove forces from hostilities is broken. you need a supermajority of both houses to make it work. never going to happen.
but let's make it really concrete. so president obama starting in 2014 argued the '01 aumf covered isis. it didn't exist on 9/11. it was fighting al qaeda at the time. this argument was made, and president trump in 2020 relied on the '02 aumf for the strike against soleimani, even though that was clearly against saddam hussein's government. but what should the president and congress have done in these instances? do you think those are two instances where the president definitely should have come to congress before using force? and to put an even finer point on it, if congress, say in the isis situation, had not acted or had voted no, should the president have let baghdad fall? i would love to hear your thoughts on what congress should actually do in those circumstances and the politics of that, if you can get into that. maybe we'll start with representative meijer this time since we started with
representative spanberger last time. >> on the soleimani strike, the 2002 aumf was a secondary justification. it was principally, president trump said under the article two self defense powers he has as commander in chief, he was executing that to prevent an imminent strike, and if that doesn't pass muster, i could invoke the '02. so i think there's a lot of fear, and this was some of the concern around applying the '01 aumf to the fight against the islamic state in 2014. there's this concern that if we take away these authorizations, then we'll be tying the president's hands. then we'll be putting our country at a disadvantage, weakening ourselves. tying into that clarification on the '02 aumf. the president as commander in chief, article ii retains self
defense capabilities. every stiek we have conducted in iraq, to my knowledge, especially against iranian backed shia militias. under both trump and president biden, have been using the article ii self defense as legal justification. that article ii self defense is still there, and there's a longer conversation about whether or not that should be hemmed in or what that looks like, but even if we were to -- even if in that case with isis in 2014, a court would have ruled that the '01 aumf didn't apply, if the majorities in both houses think that we should be fighting against these folks and it's not a defensive measure that could be justified under article two self defense, the simple answer there is to pass a new aumf, rather than letting these things lie and try to stretch and contort them, just pass a new one. if there isn't the political will in congress to pass a new one, that's sending a very different message. that is itself what the constraint could and should be.
>> i would just add to this, echoing some of peter's points. i think the question is not, for me, is not necessarily what we should have done in 2014 or what we should have done in the case of the soleimani strike, but i think it's actually my challenge is not that -- not what was done then. i mean, it is, right, but the real issue is that the landscape is what should be different. so the fact that it exists as a possibility that 13 years after the 2001 aumf that exists as a possibility that there's just this open aumf, and the president can say, well, actually, isis came out of al qaeda, la la la la la, and there 13 years later, that congressional authorization is utilized for this purpose. like, that is in and of itself the problem. that that aumf is even available for that use.
and so -- and arguably the same with the 2002 aumf being available for use as a secondary kind of just in case i need an extra reason for going after soleimani. so that's the landscape issue that's the problem. because we should be having conversations all along the way about 13 years later, 2014, we're looking at what this isis threat is. what's the action the united states should take? and as peter very importantly noted, this is not kind of the self-defense piece of it. this is the offensive what is the action the united states should take, what do the american people want us to do, what is the united states congress willing to authorize? and in the landscape where these aumfs just hang out there available for use, none of those conversations have to happen.
and that's to the detriment, i think, of our national security. that's to the detriment of the bit of responsibility because i do think members of congress should have to take those votes and be accountable for them rather than sort of pointing this president, that president, and then as they extenuate and as we get further and further from the aumfs, so too do we get further and further from the responsibility of it all. >> if i can build on that point really quickly, because i think it's an important distinction between saying, well, if we in the 2001 aumf, if we would have had a two-year sunset requiring reauthorization, you could make the argument that you think it should have been reauthorized every year since 2001. and so on the net, it would be the same impact from a statutory authorization standpoint, but procedurally, from an oversight standpoint and a congressional attention and focus standpoint, it would be very different, if
every two years as abigail said, each member of congress had to be asking the tough questions. and not just congress asking those questions, but the executive being forced to articulate exactly what they were doing, being in the hot seat, being forced to sharpen and in a more disciplined fashion communicate and say this is our strategy, this is what we're setting up to do. this is why we need you to reauthorize, rather than just trust us on it. >> i think you both have made a forceful and eloquent case for the outright repeal of the 2001 aumf. i'm characterizing that myself. i know neither of you actually said that. the main points you're emphasizing, having these aumfs hanging around for use is making them susceptible to the executive branch saying i don't need to go to congress. having this idea that congress doesn't need to vote because the president can rely on what's out there and has article ii authority in any event if there need to be self-defense strikes
that are not already authorized pursuant to an existing authorization. let's just get these things off the books. i tend to think that's a compelling argument, actually, but i want to give you a chance to argue for the alternative, if that's in fact what you think. but i want to frame it a little differently than it's usually framed. i think people are used to asking, you know, should the aumf be repealed or replaced? and if replaced, with what? but i think the more direct way to phrase that question that gets to some of what you have been saying just now about congress having to take these hard votes, should we still be at war at all 20 years after 9/11? do we need to have a standing force authorization for a strike tempo that looks like war? and if so, specifically against whom? who should the united states be fighting in a war in 2021, 2022?
if you do in fact think that the aumfs shouldn't just be repealed? i'll start with representative spanberger first for this one. >> okay. so i'm going to actually sort of piggy back my answer on what peter was just giving as an example of why if in 2001 there had been an authorization for a set period of time, two years, three years, and subsequently, congress needed to reauthorize. in that scenario, as he laid it out, there would be a constant pace of oversight, of knowing exactly where our service members were or were not deployed, understanding the full scope of whatever those operations were. however, in the absence of that, in the case where these aumfs have been stretched and i'll speak specifically about the 2001 because that was your question, in the case where the 2001 has been stretched and operations are in multiple different countries on various different fronts, operated in
many different ways, we find ourselves in a place where while there has been congressional oversight to be clear, it hasn't been at the level or with the focus that it would have otherwise been if it was constantly a question of do we continue this military operation. so i actually think we're in a place where there's not necessarily all of the information available for people to make a very, very finite decision. so frankly, at this point in time, i advocate for a discussion towards replacement. now, in that process of replacement, where do we currently have people deployed? where are we currently in an increased war time ops tempo against a terrorist entity organization threat? in that process of determining where we might need to continue, what we might need to authorize in a replacement aumf, there
exists the possibility we could determine in fact we no longer need one at this point in time, as peter mentioned, we're deployed in so many different places, so many different concurrent counterterrorism efforts. my priority is having those focused conversations towards in the case where we are saying this 2001 aumf is outdated, what do we need right now to keep our country safe? for me, that arrives at a place of replacement, but in doing that, we will be so finite, ideally, that we will answer many of the questions that frankly have gone unanswered for 20 years. and in that process, create an aumf that is succinct, focused, and driven by what our priorities are and importantly, with some sort of deadline so that we do not fall into this pattern of every 20 years we have a conversation and try to
do 20 years worth of oversight, of thoughtfulness, of really examining what threats exist. and i'll stop there. but i think this question can continue quite a bit on this one. dr. bridgemen, that's a good one. >> plenty more to say, and that was a helpful way to think about it, what do we even need to know to make this determination. congress needs to show up to do hearings, theater by theater, country by country, group by group, program by program. i would be interested to hear your thoughts on how they should do that oversight in order to make those finer determinations you're talking about. first, i want to give representative meijer a chance to respond to the question about repeal versus replace and do we need to be at war 20 years after 9/11? >> i think clearly, we need a replacement with a sunset and with a much more narrowly defined set of targets. and again, i'm not willing to say, oh, you should have al
qaeda and these on there but not al shabaab or kind of where we're making those distinctions right now. because -- well, this is kind of the fundamental problem. what's the strategy? what is our goal? what are we driving towards? if i had to distill down my frustration with our foreign policy apparatus as it stands right now or at least the national security foreign policy, our interventions in so many places of a military context, are all around dropping precision guided munitions on somebody, dropping a hellfire or whatever with this idea that, well, if we kill this guy, who is a bad guy, things will be safer. and that is a tactic. is that tacting aligned with the strategy or is it just a futile exercise for some bullets on somebody's promotion report? i think we saw this really encapsulated well in that air strike that was purportedly
against an isis khorasan v-bed in downtown kabul and the preponderance of evidence suggests it stroke a local employee of a u.s.-based ngo, killing his family, including a ngo, killing his family, including his brother, a peace advocate working for u.s. forces. so if there's anything showing just how ill worked and unintelligible these become, they may be turning to recruitment of terrorist organizations, making us unsafe in the long term. that's where i think, i would be more than happy if i felt like i had come information right now from the executive if there was an illucidative strategy on here's what we're set setting out to do. then you could actually align
tactics to an initiative and know where we're going. if you don't know where we're going, any tactics will get us there. >> when you don't know the strategy, where, if you know what your strategy is, then you can go forward with the tactics. when talking about force, we can also talk about diplomatic efforts, our intelligence-sharing efforts, outside of the operational aspects. if we're looking to get at a terrorist threat that exists in the world, you know, part of that can be achieved through diplomacy. part of finding who our allies are, making sure that we're optimizing those relationships, that is part and parcel of what needs to be that longer term strategy that, yes, in many cases, does involve military engagement, but not in a silo,
not on its own. and absent, that strategy, that is clear and defined and with a road map forward, i think it's much easier to fall back on, well this is an aumf, so it's military force. and all of those other factors that can be so beneficial to our nation's ability to project strength, engage allies, keep our country safe, thwart the growth and recruitment of terrorist organizations throughout the world, where we are giving up elements of what should be a broader, very diversified portfolio of programs and tools that we can use. >> that's vitally important, think about longterm goals not just in terms of what can we buy with military force, but what should our overall strategy be and how can it be sustainable.
we have limited time left but i want to draw you both out on this because i think you're talking about the tactic of lethal strikes over the horizon, vehicles, et cetera. you know, these nonboots on the ground use of military force are what presidents of both parties have been gravitating towards lately and it shows the united states people are more wary and don't want to see the boots on the ground. on the one hand, without these boots on the ground, because we don't have boots on the ground and don't have the resources to be doing the persistent isr to be knowing really what you will be striking, how do you bridge that with the desire to still be using military force at all? right? is it something, we're trying to have it both ways? can congress craft something and what
principles would you think about to find that middle ground? i'll go with representative meijer first. yeah. >> i think it's incumbent on politicians, elected officials, leaders to communicate to the people why they are making this decision, why it's in their best interest. what you mentioned was essentially the casualty fatigue on the public side and i've heard, and taking, not alleging you were saying this but taken great umbridge that the conflict was sustainable because there weren't that many being killed in afghanistan. okay, our casualties may have been low compared to others in the conflict because we shifted tactics, more out on the ground and in patrols, pushing that burden on to air support but at the same time, where we may have
had a lower rate, or on military fatalities, we had spiking civilian fatalities, quarter after quarter with the largest casualties of the conflict and large numbers of afghanistan national security forces getting killed. from 2015 onwards it was a similar basis to u.s. fatalities in world war ii when it comes to percentage of population so i think that's where an important consideration, the political dynamic, with the job of members of cabinet, the president, of senators, to articulate why we need to do this to keep the country safe, and frankly, if they're not articulating that, why are we doing it in the first place. >> i do want to turn to representative spanberger and let you know, this is the last word. >> then thank you so much for putting this discussion together. i think to what peter's point
just was, it's about, the tactics are somewhat not what should drive what the authorization needs or should be. if we are authorizing military force, whether that be, you know, you drop a bomb and nobody's on the ground or whether or not that's an entire battalion, it's still military force and still needs to be authorized because as we have seen through the past 20 years, that has ebbed and flowed. there was the surge and our numbers went up, our numbers went down, and also, when we're just counting what's the utilization of u.s. forces that doesn't take into consideration what's happening on the ground, as peter so correctly mentioned. so no matter the sort of military tactic we are employing, at the end of the day, if we are utilizing military force, there should be an authorization of military force and as u.s. senators and
congress, we should be debating whether to use that force, whether a soldier with a gun or drone flying overhead. and absent that, congress is not doing right by constituents. and i would say is not doing right by the safety and security of our country long-term. and that's why, i think, speaking for both of us, we have been so passionate about this issue because it really is what we choose to do now either hits reset into the future or choose to accept into the next hundred years that this is just how we function and i just don't think that's acceptable. >> thank you both for this incredibly rich conversation, i wish we could keep going for another half hour and i can't agree more this is the moment to be discussing these issues. i'll turn it over, and thank you both again. >> thank you so much, and thank
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