OUR principle is, and our practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it; to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God; seeking the good and welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all. . . All bloody principles and practices, as to our own particulars, we utterly deny; with all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world world.
– A Declaration to Charles II, 1660
I came to Quakerism over twenty-five years ago because of this peace testimony – declared by Quakers to King Charles II in the early days of the formation of the Religious Society of Friends. The very idea that a faith community would deny war and boldly testify for peace because of their direct experience with God continues to motivate me. What I know of God has nothing to do with war, fighting, or outward weapons.
Today, this declaration and our adherence to the peace testimony make Quakers a “peculiar people.” Even so, we are not alone in our pursuit of peace. In my work with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), I see people from many faith traditions join us when we advocate to Congress for specific actions to prevent and end violent conflict and war and to promote peace.
One focus that we’ve given much attention to in recent years is repealing the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). This statute passed quickly after 9/11, has shaped continuous wars for almost two decades, and poses a long-term threat to our democracy.
The 2001 AUMF – the law that “justifies” our current ubiquitous “war on terror” – has been called “the most dangerous sentence in U.S. history.” This law initially authorized then-President George W. Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” he determined to have “planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
By passing this law, Congress ceded to the President of the United States its constitutional powers to declare war. Quakers have repeatedly called on Congress to seek non-military means of addressing national security concerns; but instead, the United States has kept going to war. To the detriment of communities across the Middle East and Afghanistan, the AUMF has meant not only pursuing the perpetrators of the terrorism of 9/11, but also expanding that mission to include wars against Iraq, as well as attacks against a myriad of non-state actors – all in the pursuit of “ending terrorism.” Our U.S. military has leveraged its full force to indiscriminately destroy entire cities and kill countless innocent people.
For the last eighteen years, our nation hasn’t stopped fighting, even though many of us don’t quite know who or what we are fighting anymore. There are students starting college this fall who have never lived in a world without war being waged openly by the United States, and they probably cannot even comprehend the depth and breadth of our military involvement worldwide (nor can most of us).
The 2001 AUMF bears no time limit or geographic restrictions. In fact, it has been augmented to target groups that did not even exist when the law was first written – groups like ISIS, which have been emboldened by our country’s blanket approach to “fighting terrorism.”
This catch-all legislation has been used to justify countless military interventions, indefinite detentions, and lethal drone attacks, setting us on a path of endless warfare and the deaths of more than 7,000 U.S. military personnel (and counting). What was impulsively created to address an immediate threat has set in motion a series of events that have resulted in a ballooning military budget, increasing uses of torture, compromises on civil and religious liberties, and rising Islamophobia.
Since its inception, FCNL has urged Congress to address root causes of social instability that lead to violence. However, our lawmakers’ distorted and reactionary approach to foreign policy – particularly since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks – has only heightened global fragility. Killing “bad guys” to end violent extremism is nonsensical. Bombing entire regions into submission does not promote longevity and peace; it just makes for more war.
In fact, the AUMF makes it very easy for the United States to go to war, and it has empowered three U.S. presidents to engage in military conflicts, which have proven far too difficult to end. Eighteen years of wars have been waged without congressional consent. And because the AUMF has been the law of the land for nearly two decades, some members of Congress may not even understand the balance-of-power implications of the law and its threat to the viability of our U.S. Constitution.
This is not how our democratic political system is supposed to work, and the American people know it. FCNL’s grassroots network of Advocacy Teams – engaged citizens from all over the country – are demanding that their elected representatives reclaim their war power and fulfill their responsibilities under the Constitution. FCNL Advocacy Teams work in local communities – often alongside veterans’ groups – to build relationships with congressional offices and advocate on a non-partisan basis for their representatives and senators to support repeal of the 2001 AUMF and to re-empower Congress to debate and vote on U.S. wars.
Lawmakers are listening, but we see a long road ahead. This June, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the 2001 AUMF as part of a $1 trillion spending bill. This is the first time that a chamber of Congress has voted to repeal the 2001 AUMF. This tremendous victory happened because of the relentless advocacy of people across the country who want peace, but there is more work to be done to ensure full congressional passage. And with conflict brewing in Iran and other parts of the world, the urgency cannot be overstated. It will take more dedicated advocacy to get the Senate to support repeal of the AUMF and to assure that other, newer, even worse laws are not enacted.
The last eighteen years have shown us that excessive, reactionary militarization is not a responsible or sustainable foundation for our national security. Nor is it the legacy that the framers of the Constitution sought to leave us. In keeping with its powers under Article I of the U.S. Constitution, Congress should repeal the 2001 AUMF and take back its authority to determine where and when our country goes to war. History shows that the U.S. is less likely to pursue military action when Congress executes its authority to vote on wars.
Achieving lasting global security will require us to address the seeds of war and violence, and to work for the conditions that foster stability and security. FCNL will continue to advocate for U.S. foreign policy that prioritizes effective development, diplomacy, and peace building over military responses to violence.
My faith makes the possibility of peace imaginable. Even as the threat of war with Iran escalates and the tragedies of violence, climate change, migration, and injustice confront us, I believe that our call is to practice integrity, simplicity, and love. Through community, we can take steps toward peace and demonstrate “our testimony to the whole world.” ~~~
Diane Randall is the Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). A lifelong advocate for peace and social justice, Diane is a fierce proponent for citizen engagement that advances policies and practices to create a better society for all. Now in its 75th year, FCNL is respected on Capitol Hill by Republicans and Democrats for its multi-issue advocacy that includes Washington-based lobbyists fueled by a powerful grassroots network. Find out how you can get involved in FCNL’s advocacy: www.fcnl.org.