Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution grants Congress the power to “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies [and] to provide and maintain a Navy.”
In other words, “everything except the power of military command resides in Congress,” as the historian Jean Edward Smith has explained.
Yet, over the past decade and half, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) has been used as legal justification for the administrations of Presidents Bush II, Obama, and Trump to wage wars only tangentially—if at all—related to the original writ, which empowered the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”
In the years following, the AUMF has been invoked to justify US military interventions in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis has written that since its passage the AUMF has been used as legal grounds for military action 17 times under Bush and 19 times under Obama. And, writes Davis, “Trump has picked right up where his predecessors left off.”
In April, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) sought to remedy this by introducing legislation that would, in their telling, reestablish the congressional prerogative over war powers. Their bill would repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs (the latter authorized the war in Iraq), institute a quadrennial congressional review, and mandate measures that would ensure greater “oversight and transparency.”
Yet critics argue that the Corker-Kaine measure would only make matters worse. Indeed, some charge that the bill would result in a wholesale transfer of war-making authority from the legislative to the executive branch. US Army Maj. Danny Sjursen writes that Corker-Kaine “would essentially rubber-stamp the president’s authority, for instance, to continue the ongoing shooting wars in at least seven countries where the US is currently dropping bombs or firing off other munitions.”