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President Barack Obama speaks to a joint session of Congress. (Photo: White House/Public Domain)

After Ten Months, Will Congress Finally Be Forced to Debate the War on ISIS?

For first time since US air war on ISIS began ten months ago, lawmakers push legislation calling for withdrawal of military forces

Sarah Lazare

A small group of bipartisan congressional lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation calling for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq and Syria, in a surprise move that could, for the first time, force a real debate on the 10-month-old war on ISIS.

Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) invoked the War Powers Resolution when introducing the legislation, which directs President Barack Obama "to remove United States Armed Forces deployed to Iraq or Syria on or after August 7, 2014" within 30 days or by the end of the year.

Upon bringing the bill to the House floor, McGovern rebuked Congress as "the poster child for cowardice."

"This House appears to have no problem sending our uniformed men and women into harm's way," he said. "It appears to have no problem spending billions of dollars for the arms, equipment and airpower to carry out these wars. But it just can't bring itself to step up to the plate and take responsibility for these wars."

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Thanks to the proposed legislation, lawmakers might not be able to avoid debate on the war forever—or even for the rest of June.

As Huffington Post reporter Jennifer Bendery explains, now that McGovern introduced the legislation, "he has to wait 15 calendar days for the House Foreign Affairs Committee to act, and if it does nothing, and if House leaders do nothing, the resolution automatically heads to the House floor and anyone can bring it up for a debate."

Obama has so far waged the war without any congressional authorization under the widely contested claim that his authority to do so is covered by the expansively interpreted 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks.

After his February request for broad war-making powers in the war on ISIS floundered in Congress, Obama continued to claim authority, and lawmakers appeared unwilling to challenge this.

This silence has been accompanied by the Pentagon's repeated refusal to disclose basic information about the war, including who has been killed in the more than 4,000 U.S. coalition air bombardments. Despite numerous reports of civilian killings in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon has only admitted to "likely" killing two children in Syria, and that admission came six months after the deadly attack.

For analysts and organizers who hold there is no U.S. military solution to ISIS, the announcement came as a welcome change from the congressional silence on the military campaign, despite the war's ever-broadening scope.

Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams that, even though the legislation is unlikely to pass, "having these kinds of resolutions on the table is crucial to make it clear that there is no 'speaking with one voice' to support the president and support these wars. The U.S. is not united behind these wars, and other members of Congress ignore this at their peril."

Stephen Miles of advocacy organization Win Without War told Common Dreams that, given the scale of destruction and loss, Congress's avoidance of debate is morally unacceptable. "If Members of Congress don't want to take a position on this war, they have no right to ask anyone to risk their lives for it," he said.


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