It's been more than two years since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq. But a loophole in the 2002 Iraq War Resolution allows future presidents to re-invade Iraq anytime they want. Now, Republican Senator Rand Paul wants to change that.
On Tuesday, the Kentucky libertarian is set to formally introduce a bill to repeal the Authorization of the Use of Military Force in Iraq. The bill, obtained by The Cable, has the support of a handful of Republicans and Democrats. But, in a bit of a surprise, it also has the support of the White House -- at least in principle.
"The Administration supports the repeal of the Iraq AUMF since it is no longer used for any U.S. Government activities," White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. "We understand that some in Congress are considering legislation related to the Iraq AUMF, and we will certainly examine these proposals as they come forward."
An administration official made clear that repealing the Iraq AUMF was not a priority for the White House because the effect would be largely symbolic. But the statement may provide cover for other Democrats who voted against Paul's attempt to repeal the Iraq AUMF in 2011 due to concerns that it would hamstring the administration. (At the time, Paul's repeal effort failed by a landslide 30-67 vote).
"The war in Iraq is officially over," Paul said in a statement. "With the practical side of the mission concluded, I feel it is appropriate to bring this conflict to an official, legal end."
The bill is now backed by a bipartisan group of co-sponsors including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jeff Merkeley (D-OR).
One reason the administration may be offering tacit support for Paul's bill now is to emphasize the limits of future U.S. involvement in Iraq. Al Qaeda's takeover of Fallujah and Ramadi earlier this month have led to questions about Obama's willingness to put boots on the ground to dispel militants from areas where U.S. troops fought costly battles during the troop surge in 2007. The U.S. continues to rule out the deployment of troops.
"This is their fight," Secretary of State John Kerry said this month. "We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground." Instead, the U.S. has expedited shipments of Scan Eagle surveillance drones and Hellfire missiles now being used by Iraqi propeller planes in military operations against Al Qaeda.
Even if the Iraq AUMF were repealed, the administration could technically take military action in Iraq -- thanks to the resurgence of Al Qaeda there. The AUMF signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 gives the White House broad, broad latitude to strike almost anywhere the terror group or its allies are operating. It's an irony not lost on Sam Brannen of the Center for Strategic and international Studies. "In 2003, it was incredibly disingenuous to link the Iraq invasion to al Qaeda," he told The Cable. "Now it would would be disingenuous not link an invasion to al Qaeda given the group's prominence there."
President Obama has signaled a willingness to revisit the language of the 2001 AUMF amid pressure by Paul and a small group of lawmakers. Thus far, little progress has been made in the House and Senate.
A copy of the bill Paul plans to introduce today appears below: