Two Republican U.S. Senators want to know why the United States is still involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee are especially concerned about the fact the president is sticking with almost two-decade-old authorizations to keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“This is what really infuriated me about the briefing: Is they maintain both in private and in public that a vote by Congress in 2003 or 2002 to go after Saddam Hussein was a vote that now allows them to still be in Iraq and do whatever they want, including killing a foreign general from Iran,” Paul declared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday while pushing for a vote in Congress on new Authorizations for Use of Military Force. “And I don’t think that’s what Congress meant in 2002, nor do I think one generation can bind another generation. So my point in being for this war powers debate is that we really need to have a debate about whether we should still be in Iraq or in Afghanistan.”
The Kentucky Republican also expressed concern about the number of troops in the entirety of the Middle East including Saudi Arabia where several thousand American military personnel are stationed. This doesn’t count the over 4k recently deployed to the Middle East since the assassination or targeted killing or whatever you want to call it of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
“I think President Trump has been very consistent saying he doesn’t want perpetual war,” Paul said noting a bit of a mixed message in the words from the White House. “But I have pushed back and I’ve said, “If you keep sending more troops, you will have perpetual war.” The troops are merely targets.”
Lee’s concern on CBS Face the Nation was also quite palpable.
“[A]nytime we have something like this and we’ve signaled in advance that it’s not covered by an existing AUMF then yeah we’re- we’re relying on the good faith use of a commander in chief power by the president,” Lee explained on Sunday while noting the Defense Department failed to give Congress enough justification on Soleimani’s killing earlier this month. “This is not a new precedent, it’s not- it’s not contingent on or- or rooted in- in this presidential administration.”
What is going on now with mission creep involving U.S. troops is nothing new. America’s tendency to get more and more involved in military entanglements without congressional approval dates back to the 1950s when then-President Harry Truman sent U.S. troops to Korea. Other administrations have followed the lead including former President Ronald Reagan’s decision to invade Grenada in 1983. Ex-President Barack Obama also did multiple drone strikes across the Middle East without congressional approval. It’s a bipartisan issue.
Lee and Paul also expressed disappointment in the briefing given by the Trump Administration on why they targeted Soleimani without congressional approval.
“Throughout the whole briefing they were dismissive of Congress,” Paul complained on NBC. “They, in the end, said they didn’t have time to come back. We only had about eight senators ask questions and they said, “Oh, we don’t have time. We’re busy” about coming back to brief the rest of us or take questions from the rest of us. So it was very dismissive.”
“[I]n that briefing, we didn’t receive very much information that wasn’t already available through public media sources,” Lee commented on CNN’s State of the Union while also noting briefers didn’t say anything about the potential of Iran attacking four U.S. embassies. “This is one of the things that’s very frustrating. When something like this happens, when events are unfolding quickly, events that will have a profound impact on national security and military strategy, Congress does need to know about it, in part so we can evaluate the scope of our authority to act or choose not to act. We didn’t get that. And that was disappointing.”
There is a solution, although it’s one those in Washington seem hesitant to use. Congress is the only part of the government allowed to declare war or military action. No other branch can do so. Yet Congress has long been willing to allow the executive to do whatever it wants regardless of whatever part is in power.
Much hay was made about the War Powers Resolution passed by the House last week. Yet it’s a concurrent, non-binding resolution meaning it’s completely toothless. The White House can ignore it and go about its merry way without any real worry.
The War Powers Resolution sponsored by Virginia Democrat Senator Tim Kaine is not. It’s a joint resolution meaning President Donald Trump will have to either sign it into law or veto it. Congress could then override Trump’s veto meaning the U.S. could not go to war with Iran. This is a vote which needs to happen and needs to happen sooner rather than later.
The other needed vote is one on a new Authorization for Use of Force regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. The enemy is no longer Saddam Hussein. He’s long dead. Osama bin Laden is dead. Why are we risking the lives of Americans – two more died this weekend in Afghanistan – when the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are over and done with?
It’s time to move on, reduce troop levels in the Middle East, and leave.