The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Wednesday to finally repeal two decades-old measures giving open-ended approval for military action in Iraq, an early round of action in a growing Democratic push to reclaim congressional say over U.S. military strikes and deployments.
Committee members voted 14-8, with three Republicans voting with Democrats, to repeal the 1991 measure that sanctioned the U.S.-led Gulf War to expel Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, and the 2002 measure that greenlighted the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who sponsored the measure with Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young, said he was hopeful of a full Senate vote in coming weeks repealing the two measures and “formally bringing the war in Iraq to an end.”
The House already has voted to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations of military force in Iraq.
In testimony before the committee Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman encouraged repeal of the 2002 measure. Ending the war authorization against Saddam’s Iraq made clear that the Iraq government of today was a partner of the United States, and removed a grievance for rival Iran to exploit, Sherman said.
But Republican opponents argued that revoking the two authorizations for military force signaled U.S. weakness to Iran at a time when the Biden administration was formally ending its combat role in both Iraq and Afghanistan and negotiating to reenter a nuclear deal with Iran.
“The ayatollah is listening to this debate,” Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said of Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, has repeatedly tried to depict President Joe Biden as weak on Iran. “The ayatollah is listening to what’s happening. We’ve seen him testing the Biden administration over and over and over again.”
Republicans also pointed out that President Donald Trump’s administration had cited the 2002 Iraq war resolution as part of its legal justification for a 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani. Top lawyers for the State Department and Pentagon told committee members on Tuesday that the Biden administration believes it has adequate legal authority for any similar strike, even with repeal of the Iraq war measures.
Wednesday’s vote comes in a growing tug-of-war over Congress’ and the executive branch’s constitutionally granted authority over U.S. military force. Democrats say Biden’s administration is only the latest to sidestep seeking approval from Congress before carrying out airstrikes this year against al-Qaida allied insurgents in Somalia and Iran-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border.