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2 senators sponsor a bill to repeal the Iraq War Authorization Act

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

On March 20, 2003, bombs fell on Baghdad...

(SOUNDBITE OF BOMBS EXPLODING)

KELLY: ...What came to be known as shock and awe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, here. Sorry. Here. Sorry. Here. Sorry.

ARI FLEISCHER: The opening stages of the disarmament of the Iraqi regime have begun. The President will address the nation at 10:15.

GEORGE W BUSH: My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It took just three weeks for U.S. forces to reach Baghdad's Firdos Square, where they toppled a statue of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The following month, then-President Bush declared mission accomplished.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BUSH: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.

(APPLAUSE)

CHANG: Despite early military success and declaring victory, the war in Iraq would rage on for years. The U.S. military still has a presence in the country today.

KELLY: Weapons of mass destruction, the threat the U.S. government said it was trying to eliminate - they were never found. The intelligence that Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, cited to justify the war was revealed to be faulty. By some estimates, the U.S. has spent nearly $2 trillion on the war in Iraq.

CHANG: About 4,500 American troops gave their lives. More than 31,000 were wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed.

KELLY: The U.S. could not have waged war in Iraq had it not been for an oblique-sounding congressional bill known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. It authorized then-President George W. Bush to send U.S. troops to Iraq. The approval was open-ended, and today, 20 years later, it is still in effect.

Well, Virginia Democrat Senator Tim Kaine and Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young are sponsoring a bill to repeal the war powers authorization. And last week, the Senate voted to move forward with their bill. They join me now. Senator Kaine, Senator Young, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

TIM KAINE: Great to be with you. Thank you, Mary Louise.

TODD YOUNG: Thanks for having us.

KELLY: So I want to point out the legislation that you are sponsoring together covers the 2002 AUMF for Operation Iraqi Freedom, also goes back to the first Gulf War back in '91. Why is it important to revoke them now?

KAINE: Well, the enemy that we waged war against in 1991, the Gulf War - the government of Saddam Hussein - is over. And then that same enemy, the government of Iraq under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, that war ended in 2010 at the latest. And Iraq now is a security partner. So why would you want to have a live war authorization against a nation that is now a partner for Mideast stability with the United States?

KELLY: Senator Young, what do you see as the risk of just leaving this in place? It's been there for 20 years. Why not let it keep rolling on?

YOUNG: Well, it's just an invitation to mischief if you maintain these legal authorities on the books. But there's also - there's a moral point here, not just legal. Our men and women in uniform have clearly done their duty over the years when the American people have called upon them. And Congress has a duty, a legal duty, of course, to declare war - it's right there in the Constitution - but also a duty to speak to these issues, not just authorizing force and overseeing conduct of a given military operation, but ultimately to bring conflicts to a close and to deauthorize military force. It's about time the American people know that Congress is firmly dialed into these issues and prepared to do its duty as well.

KELLY: I hear in both your comments a desire for Congress to reassert itself at the fore of what the U.S. does in military conflicts overseas. Was it a mistake, do you think, Senator Kaine, in the first place for Congress to have authorized this power, signed it over to President Bush and all of the presidents who followed?

KAINE: Well, presidents tend to overreach, and the framers understood that. And that's why they wrote the Constitution the way they did - that we shouldn't be at war without votes of Congress. But Congress kind of hides under the desk and doesn't exercise the authority they need to. But both Todd and I are strongly of the belief that the framers got it right, that we shouldn't be ordering troops into harm's way if Congress is unwilling to put the thumbprint on it that says, yep, we've debated this in front of the whole public, and it's in the national interest. And under those circumstances, yes, you know, go into harm's way to protect the country.

KELLY: Senator Young, as you know, people who are not on board with this bill, opponents of your measure, argue that it would take flexibility away from the president and the Pentagon, flexibility they may need to respond to threats and in real time and quickly given that Congress in the last few years, it is safe to say, has not always moved quickly and in anything resembling a unified way. Do you share that concern at all?

YOUNG: No, I really don't. This won't impact any of our ongoing military operations. Almost every legal scholar who looks at how we've narrowly crafted this legislation agrees with that. This would not prevent any future military actions which may be authorized by Congress. Of course, the president still has his Article II authorities as commander in chief. So to the extent there is an immediate risk of harm to our troops or to our country, he can respond. And he still has authorities to carry on war on terror. So I would say...

KELLY: Please.

YOUNG: Yes, please.

KELLY: Oh, I was going to jump in and ask - I mean, that does prompt the question over whether this is symbolic. As you say, this would not impact current U.S. military operations. The White House agrees with that.

YOUNG: This would clearly improve our current security posture in the Middle East. This is why top leaders in the current Iraqi government support this effort as a gesture of solidarity and partnership with them. After all, we have troops on the ground at the invitation of the Iraqi government right now in a training capacity. And seeing as the war has long been over, it's now time to send a gesture of friendship and solidarity with them that, of course, would tell our adversaries that we stand next to our security partners and are prepared to work with them.

KELLY: Let me end with a final thought from each of you. Again, we're speaking on the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion, and I introduced this segment detailing some of the costs of this conflict to the U.S. and to Iraq. Was it worth it? Senator Kaine, you first.

KAINE: I was not in Congress when the Iraq war vote happened, and so I have the benefit of hindsight. Others who were there didn't. But I think it was a mistake. And I think it ended up creating a situation where the removal of the government of Saddam Hussein elevated the power of Iran to do bad things in the region.

But I will say this. Here's a great thing about our country. We have the capacity - and we've shown it over time - to turn an adversary into a friend. So there's hardly a better ally of the United States than Germany. Japan is a great ally. And the capacity to turn Iraq from an enemy into a friend is a tribute to the magnanimity of both nations.

KELLY: Senator Young.

YOUNG: There are many lessons to be learned from our war in Iraq. And I think if we had it to do all over again, we'd do a lot of things differently. We need to learn those lessons as members of Congress. We need to internalize them, and we need to apply them to future circumstances around the world so that we can be held accountable when our men and women have to go into conflict zones to keep us free in the future.

KELLY: That is Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana and Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. They are co-sponsoring legislation that would revoke the authorization for the use of military force in Iraq. Thanks so much to you both for taking the time to talk it through with us.

YOUNG: Great to be with you.

KAINE: Great to be with you today. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.

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