December 12, 2019

VIDEO: Following Release of Afghanistan Papers, Udall Appeals to the Senate to Reassert its Constitutional Authority over Authorizing War

Following Post exposé, Udall calls for a vote on the Udall, Paul bill to responsibly withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan

Says 2020 National Defense Authorization Act is a “missed opportunity” to prevent unauthorized war with Iran and end U.S. participation in Saudi campaign in Yemen – actions supported by bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress

VIDEO LINK: https://youtu.be/VAXgltjR2Oo 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D- N.M.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Senate floor imploring his colleagues to heed the lessons and failures of 18 years of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, end the longest armed conflict in U.S. history, and take action to prevent another unauthorized war with Iran and terminate U.S. support for the “horrific” Saudi war in Yemen. 

Udall’s speech follows the Washington Post’ release of “the Afghanistan Papers,” more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished documents that exposed serious problems with the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, including the revelation that senior military and administration officials knew there was no coherent strategy and misled the public and Congress about progress in the war.  

“The war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history.  But it no longer has a clear purpose,” said Udall. “These 2,000 pages of interviews and memos from senior military, diplomatic, and White House officials tell a shocking and tragic story. Three separate administrations have had no well-formed mission for the war, but fought on anyway, and repeatedly misled the American public.”

“That war has cost 157,000 lives. More than 775,000 American troops have been deployed. 2,300 American military personnel have been killed, and more than 20,000 wounded. It has cost the American people over $2 trillion dollars,” said Udall. “These costs are tragic. Inexcusable. And it’s time for this war to end.”

During his speech, Udall called for a Senate vote on his legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to responsibly withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. “The act declares victory in Afghanistan, acknowledging the original objectives have largely been met, sets guidelines for the safe and orderly withdrawal of troops, and repeals the 2001 AUMF once and for all,” said Udall. “We should have a vote.”

During his speech, Udall also said that the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) represents a “missed opportunity” to assert congressional war powers, because it does not include a bipartisan amendment that would prevent the President from entering an unauthorized war in Iran or a bipartisan provision to stop U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen.

“I was encouraged earlier this year when the House passed — and a majority of the Senate supported --my amendment to prohibit war with Iran absent Congressional authorization,” said Udall. “The risk of war with Iran is very real – whether intentionally, or by mistake, miscalculation, or misjudgment. And the President claims he can go to war against Iran without Congressional approval.”

“This week the Senate and House conference committee just released their NDAA conference report. I’m deeply disappointed they did not include our amendment. This is a major missed opportunity to take back our authority. A missed opportunity to stop the expansion of war and U.S. interventionism in the Middle East,” said Udall.

Udall concluded by urging his colleagues to reassert their authority to declare war in order to prevent endless military conflicts that are unsupported by the American people. “This is not a political issue.  It’s not red or blue. Republican or Democratic. It’s constitutional. Everyone here has sworn to uphold the Constitution. We can do so by upholding –not running from— our constitutional responsibilities,” Udall concluded.

The full text of Udall’s remarks as prepared can be found below: 

I rise to discuss Congress’s ongoing failure to assert our constitutional war powers. 

This failure is the root cause of two pressing concerns that we currently face:

First, the seemingly endless U.S. involvement in Middle East wars.

And second: the very real possibility that the Trump administration will involve us in more of them.

The Founders were clear in their intent. The Constitution squarely places the authority to “declare war” with Congress, and Congress alone.

The founders did this for good reason. For centuries, European monarchs had drained royal coffers, levied heavy taxes, and lost countless lives in wars that benefitted themselves, not the people.   

As Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts said during the Constitutional Convention, after another delegate suggested giving this power to the president: “[I] never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the Executive alone to declare war.”  

The founders vested this most consequential power in the legislative branch, so that any decision to go to war would have broad public support.

Since the Republic's beginning, there has been a tension between the Congress and the executive branch regarding the use of this power.

In the modern era, the balance has been upended. Our ability – and willingness – to effectively check the executive on war powers is dangerously diminished.

Congress has not declared war for any of our major conflicts since World War Two. 

But after the bloody, prolonged, and politically divisive Vietnam War, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973—overriding the veto of President Nixon. That resolution requires Congress to issue an authorization for use of military force, an “AUMF.”

Immediately after 9/11, a nearly unanimous Congress, myself included, authorized force against the perpetrators – Al Qaeda – and those who “harbored” them, by which we meant the Taliban government in Afghanistan. The 2001 AUMF authorized the U.S. entering conflict in Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda. 

The Taliban was then expelled from power. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has been defeated. Osama bin Laden is dead. And the now 18-year old AUMF has outlived its purpose -- as a stunning Washington Post expose? on the Afghan war has now made clear. 

The war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history. But it no longer has a clear purpose. 

The Washington Post successfully sued for access to previously undisclosed government documents -- dubbed the “Afghanistan Papers.”  These 2,000 pages of interviews and memos from senior military, diplomatic, and White House officials tell a shocking and tragic story. Three separate administrations have had no well-formed mission for the war, but fought on anyway, and repeatedly misled the American public. 

According to the head of the NATO command in Afghanistan in 2006, “There was no coherent long-term strategy” there.

The next NATO commander, Army Lieutenant General Dan McNeill said, “I tried to get someone to define for me what winning meant, even before I went over, and nobody could. Nobody would give me a good definition of what it meant. There was no NATO campaign plan – a lot of verbiage and talk, but no plan.”

A senior diplomat under President Obama said, “If I were to write a book, its [cover] would be: ‘American goes to war without knowing why it does.’”

Over and over, senior officials describe the lack of strategic goals.

All the while, the government lied to the American people, claiming success when there was none.

That war has cost 157,000 lives. More than 775,000 American troops have been deployed.  2,300 American military personnel have been killed, and more than 20,000 wounded. It has cost the American people over $2 trillion.  

These costs are tragic. Inexcusable. And it’s time for this war to end.

But the executive branch isn’t the only branch at fault.  Congress has sat back and let the executive stretch the AUMF to the point of breaking. We’ve ducked the debates. We’ve ducked the hard votes.  

We need to change that. And we can start with Afghanistan.

In March, Senator Paul and I introduced the American Forces Going Home After Noble Service Act or AFGHAN Service Act to responsibly pull our troops out of Afghanistan.  

The act: Declares victory in Afghanistan, acknowledging the original objectives have largely been met, sets guidelines for the safe and orderly withdrawal of troops, and repeals the 2001 AUMF once and for all.

We should have a vote.

But Afghanistan is just the largest of our ongoing Middle Eastern wars. 

The 9/11 AUMF has been used to justify military ventures all around the world – 41 times to justify military action in 14 countries. I voted for this authorization, and I know full well Congress did not intend that.  

And more unauthorized conflicts are looming on the horizon.

I was encouraged earlier this year when the House passed — and a majority of the Senate supported --my amendment to prohibit war with Iran absent Congressional authorization.

Tensions with Iran have grown since the President withdrew from the international agreement preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It’s been a year and a half since the President dropped out of that agreement -- claiming he could get a “better deal” and mounting his “maximum pressure” strategy. 

Since then, we haven’t gotten anywhere close to a “better deal.” But we have gotten close to war.

This June, we were 10 minutes away from the President calling a strike on Iran. Ten minutes away from military escalation in the Gulf. 

While the President’s maximum pressure campaign has not succeeded in forcing Iran into a better deal, it has succeeded in pushing Iran to breach the nuclear agreement. And it’s led to a cycle of violence in the region -- and from Iran -- attacking commercial ships in the Gulf of Oman, moving short-range ballistic missiles into Iraq, threatening U.S. troops and Israel.

Since May, the President has increased troop presence by 14,000 in the Middle East. And, after initially denying it — the Pentagon is considering sending an additional 14,000 troops. 

The risk of war with Iran is very real – whether intentionally, or by mistake, miscalculation, or misjudgment.  And the President claims he can go to war against Iran without Congressional approval.  

In September, this body held a historic vote, voting 50 to 40 to include the Udall-Kaine-Paul amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to prohibit funding for war with Iran without Congressional authorization. We took a giant step forward to assert our constitutional authority.

This amendment was germane and by rule it should have been included in the final Senate NDAA. But the majority leader forced a 60-vote threshold that should not have applied.  

Nevertheless, the House version did include the prohibition. And with Senate majority support, it should have been included in conference.

This week the Senate and House conference committee just released their NDAA conference report. I’m deeply disappointed they did not include our amendment. This is a major missed opportunity to take back our authority. A missed opportunity to stop the expansion of war and U.S. interventionism in the Middle East.

Another terrible missed opportunity is the NDAA’s failure to include a provision to eliminate U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's disastrous war in Yemen. 

Under the authority of the 2001 AUMF, our troops are supporting Saudi Arabia in its war against the insurgent Houthi. But the Houthi are also fighting Al Qaeda – the actual target of the 9/11 AUMF. So -- we are fighting a group fighting against Al Qaeda. This is a prime example of the misuse of this authorization.

And the human cost is horrific. Since 2015, more than 100,000 people have been killed in Yemen – including more than 12,000 Yemeni civilians. More than 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian aid.  

There is no compelling U.S. national interest in aiding the Saudis in this war. We should not be lending support to a war that the international community recognizes as a humanitarian disaster. 

In April, both houses voted on a bipartisan basis to remove our troops from this conflict unless Congress authorized force. The President vetoed that bipartisan bill. 

The NDAA conference committee missed an opportunity to step up, and direct the President to take us out of the Saudi-Yemen conflict.

Again, Congress is ducking its duties.

For too long, Congress has hidden from making the hard decisions, from taking the tough votes. We’ve deferred to the executive, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike.  

The founders placed this power in our hands for good reason. Those reasons are as sound today as they were two centuries ago. 

This is not a political issue. It’s not red or blue. Republican or Democratic. It’s constitutional. 

Everyone here has sworn to uphold the Constitution. We can do so by upholding -- not running from -- our constitutional responsibilities.