As Mission Creeps in Iraq and Syria, Lawmakers Ask: Will We Ever Vote on War?

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As Mission Creeps in Iraq and Syria, Lawmakers Ask: Will We Ever Vote on War?

A group of 35 bipartisan House Reps. issued an open letter calling for a Congressional vote on war authorization "as quickly as possible."

U.S. Representative Barbara Lee. (Photo: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

U.S. Representative Barbara Lee. (Photo: Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

Amid intensifying U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria, a group of 35 bipartisan House lawmakers issued an open letter on Friday calling for Congress to fulfill its responsibility by voting "as quickly as possible" on whether to authorize a war that is well over a year old.

The missive calls for new Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to immediately force a vote on Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) "that clearly delineates the authority and limits, if any, on U.S. military engagement in Iraq, Syria, and the surrounding region."

The letter is signed by stalwart war critics, such as Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), as well as members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, in what one reporter called an "unusual coalition." Reps. Lee, Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and John Lewis (D-Ga.) are leading the charge.

The initiative comes amid ongoing U.S. military escalation. In late October, President Barack Obama ordered 50 Special Operations soldiers to be deployed to Syria and also announced expanded ground operations in Iraq—where U.S. troops will embed with Iraqi and Kurdish forces and engage in combat.

Also late last month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the U.S. is planning to escalate its attacks in Iraq and Syria. "We won't hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL or conducting such missions directly," Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground."

"We do not share the same policy prescriptions for U.S. military engagement in the region," Friday's letter states. "Taken all together, these represent a significant escalation in U.S. military operations in the region and place U.S. military personnel on the front lines of combat operations.

"As long as the House fails to assert its constitutional prerogatives and authority," the lawmakers continue, "the Administration may continue to expand the mission and level of engagement of U.S. Armed Forces throughout the region."

The only AUMF offered by the Obama administration was submitted in February and called for expansive presidential war powers, including a green-light for open-ended and geographically limitless military operations. Then in June, a bipartisan group of senators proposed another UAMF that also called for broad war powers, in some ways going beyond Obama's failed AUMF proposal.

As both of these efforts stalled, the Obama administration continued to escalate military operations in Iraq and Syria, claiming authority from two pieces of legislation passed in 2001 and 2002—a highly controversial position.

"The Obama administration acknowledges that there is no military solution," Robert Naiman, policy director for Just Foreign Policy, told Common Dreams. "But they keep escalating anyway, apparently believing this will increase their leverage in negotiations with Russia and Iran. No one has yet been held accountable for explaining what the U.S. and Saudi Arabia will gain at the negotiating table with more killing, and how many Syrian lives that is worth.

"The question now," Naiman added, "is what else these members of Congress are willing to do to compel a vote—like invoke the War Powers Resolution to force one."

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