A left-right coalition of anti-war and pro-military restraint groups has a message for members of Congress: to compel President Joe Biden to seek permission before launching deadly strikes like those in February.
Last month, the Biden administration shelled two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militias, in retaliation for recent militia attacks on US troops in neighboring Iraq.
Lawmakers from both parties – but especially Democrats – denounced the strikes almost immediately, saying the United States was not at war with Syria and Congress had not approved any attacks on militants backed by the Syrian Arab Republic. ‘Iran.
“Offensive military action without Congressional approval is unconstitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” said at the time Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a longtime advocate for strengthening the role. of Congress in authorizing military operations.
The Biden administration, of course, disagreed. He argued that Iranian-backed proxies threatened US troops and therefore Biden had the right under Article II of the Constitution to use force to defend those troops.
But this rationale did not suit those who had long wanted Congress to assert its role in decision-making on American wars. And now they’re asking Congress to do something about it.
In a letter to Congress shared exclusively with Vox, two dozen organizations across the political spectrum – from progressive foreign policy groups to conservative think tanks – call on lawmakers to pass a new war powers resolution “to make it clear that the executive power strikes in Syria. on February 25, 2021, were not authorized nor would they be similar actions. “
“If Congress does not act to reprimand and prohibit this illegal action, this precedent could be cited to defend unauthorized military action essentially anywhere in the world, against almost any group, and at virtually any time. , as long as an administration declares that US interests are threatened by the targeted group at some point in the past or in the future, ”the letter said.
The letter, which is expected to be sent to lawmakers as early as this week, will likely add more urgency to growing congressional pressure to reduce the president’s war powers – a push that the White House has so far signaled it supports. .
What the letter of resolution says about the powers of war
Mardi, la lettre comptait 24 signataires: Action Corps, Antiwar.com, le Center for International Policy, CODEPINK, Concerned Veterans for America, Defending Priorities Initiative, Defending Rights and Dissent, Demand Progress, Environmentalists Against War, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, Historians for Peace and Democracy, Just Foreign Policy, the Libertarian Institute, MADRE, National Iranian American Council Action, Peace Action, Peace Direct, Peaceworkers, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Roots Action, STEM Strikes for Peace , Veterans for Peace, Women for Weapons Trade Transparency et le Comité de l’Alliance yéménite.
Together, this left-to-right group – organized by Demand Progress, Just Foreign Policy and Concerned Veterans of America – argues that the Biden administration’s legal record for strikes is flawed.
Under Article II of the Constitution and the War Powers Act 1973, the signatories write, the President’s judicial authorities to take military action without first having received formal congressional approval. apply only to a narrow set of situations where the imminent and extreme nature of the threat makes it impossible or impossible to convene Congress in a timely manner that would allow the necessary defensive actions.
The signatories say there was nothing “imminent” or “extreme” about the threat to US troops from Iran-backed militias when the Biden administration launched the attack in Syria on February 25. separate rocket attacks this month, the latest – the Erbil attack that killed a Filipino contractor and injured several US soldiers – came 10 days before the US intervened.
This, states the letter, “demonstrate[s] that there was ample time for Congress to exercise its duty to authorize military action.
The letter also notes that after the US strike, there was another attack on US troops in March – this one against al-Assad airbase in western Iraq – which many suspect of ‘have been perpetrated by these same proxies backed by Iran.
But rather than taking this as evidence that, as the Biden administration claimed to justify the strike, US troops were in fact at imminent risk of an ongoing attack by these militias, the signatories of the letter claim that the US strike provoked the attack.
They cite a recent Just Security article by Oona Hathaway, a Yale Law School professor and former Pentagon attorney, saying that “Self-defense is not really self-defense if instead of preventing a threat, it is self-defense. precipitate.”
However, it is still unclear who launched the March attack on al-Assad airbase and whether it was carried out either in response to US retaliation or as part of the week-long campaign against it. American troops.
Yet for this and other reasons, the signatories insist that the strike was “clearly unauthorized, illegal and unconstitutional” and call on lawmakers “to immediately introduce war powers resolutions to prohibit any future. unauthorized attack of this type ”.
“Their blatant assertion of the authority of Article II to strike any group, in any country, could set a precedent that would completely defeat the purpose of [AUMF reform]Said Hadiya Afzal, a Just Foreign Policy organizer who orchestrated the letter effort. “Congress must constantly defend its war powers and reject any unauthorized military action – regardless of the seat of the White House.”
The question now is whether lawmakers will listen to what the inter-ideological group has to say. The most likely outcome is that the letter will fuel a growing argument between the warring powers over the coming months.
A debate on war powers has already started in Congress
Several past presidential administrations have relied on two authorizations to use military force – called AUMF – to conduct military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. The 2001 version gave the green light to the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11, and the 2002 iteration gave Congress the blessing of Bush to invade Iraq – a then-Sen move. Biden voted in favor.
Since then, the Republican and Democratic administrations have broadly interpreted these permissions as giving the United States permission, among other things, to hunt down terrorists around the world, including the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. However, Presidents have always said they have the ultimate power to exercise the military as needed in their role as Commander-in-Chief.
Biden, on the other hand, has so far signaled that he will support a congressional effort to repeal those permissions and replace them with an updated – and possibly more limited – version.
“We are committed to working with Congress to ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure that we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending eternal wars, ”White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a March 5 statement to Politico later posted on Twitter.
We are committed to working with Congress to ensure that the current authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure that we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending wars. eternal.
– Jen Psaki (@PressSec) 5 mars 2021
The announcement came just two days after Kaine and Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) introduced a bill that would repeal the 2002 AUMF and a 1991 measure that paved the way for war with Iraq. . “Congress has a responsibility not only to vote to authorize new military action, but also to repeal old authorizations that are no longer needed,” Kaine said in a statement.
But some critics have said new, more targeted permissions will still allow Biden or any future president to bomb when and where they see fit. This is partly why Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), for example, reintroduced his resolution on the powers of war shortly after the White House said Biden was open to an AUMF discussion.
“It’s a big step, but Congress must also prevent any president from avoiding the constitutional obligation to seek authorization from Congress before bringing US forces into hostilities – which my legislation would do,” he said. he said in a statement.
Some of the groups that signed the letter, like Demand Progress and Just Foreign Policy, supported DeFazio’s decision. At the moment, there is no indication that his resolution will reach Congress, or even be up for debate, but it does show that there is already a serious push from the war powers.