While U.S. military forces execute a “whack-a-mole” airstrike approach to rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias in Syria, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq (AUMF).
Liberty Nation Managing Editor Mark Angelides, reporting on the most recent U.S. military response in the Middle East, said, “On Sunday evening, President Biden ordered a number of strikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border area.”
During a press briefing, John Kirby, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, described the most recent targets as facilities “utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq.”
In its coverage of the retaliatory operations by the United States, the BBC said, “A powerful Iraqi militia alliance, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), said four members of one faction were killed and threatened to retaliate.” Protests followed by the PMF that the targets were not “involved in any activity against the foreign presence in Iraq” and did “not include any [weapons] stores or similar, in contrast to the claims made by the U.S.”
Nonetheless, according to Politico, Kirby maintained that the strikes “targeted facilities at two locations in Syria and one inside Iraq that were used by several Iran-backed groups, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.” The Pentagon spokesman also gave additional details, saying they “were carried out by U.S. Air Force F-15s and F-16s using satellite-guided munitions.”
If nothing else, PMF was true to its word. Within roughly 48 hours from the time U.S. fighters carried out the airstrikes, The Wall Street Journal reported that:
“U.S. troops in northeast Syria came under rocket fire Monday night after Iran-backed militias vowed revenge for U.S. airstrikes earlier that day in Iraq and Syria, a sign that fighting may be evolving into sustained confrontation. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, Col. Wayne Marotto, said that multiple rockets had been fired at U.S. troops and that American forces responded by firing artillery at the rocket launching positions.”
Congress to Reign in the Executive
While the exchange of munitions was taking place in Syria and Iraq, Congress was working to limit the authorization that allows the United States to engage in those military actions without congressional approval. The AUMF, the statute that the Biden administration used to permit military operations in Syria and Iraq, was under siege in Washington.
Congress has been trying since the Obama administration to repeal AUMF with little success. The rationale has been, and continues to be, that AUMF gives too much power to the Executive Branch to deploy U.S. armed forces without congressional authorization.
Kevin Freking of the Associated Press explained:
“‘Repeal is crucial because the executive branch has a history of stretching the authorization’s legal authority,’ said Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. ‘It has already been used as justification for military actions against entities that had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist dictatorship simply because such entities were operating in Iraq.'”
Administrations from both political parties have relied on the 2002 legislation passed initially to enable the George W. Bush administration to invade Iraq, hunt down and destroy the Iraqi military, capture Saddam Hussein, and occupy Iraq. Subsequently, AUMF has been the justification for continued operations in Syria and Iraq.
The operative words in the AUMF legislation say:
” … the President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to … defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
The Obama and Trump administrations both interpreted the legislative language as not just “national security” but “important national interests.” According to the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, the additional words provide the president as commander in chief with a broader scope and greater discretion in the use of troops. That more expansive scope and discretion are what Congress takes issue with. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle see engaging in war as the constitutional province of the Legislative Branch to be jealously guarded.
In a recent House vote, the members made a very bipartisan decision in favor of repealing AUMF with a 268 to 161 result. The momentum seems to be growing. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to bring the repeal legislation before the Senate this year.
Freking, quoting the majority leader, wrote that “the Iraq War has been over for nearly a decade … the authorization passed in 2002 is no longer necessary in 2021.”
President Trump’s administration believed that AUMF was less relevant to conduct operations in Iraq and other places than the 1973 War Powers Act. As the February 2020 Congressional Research Service report on the legal authorities for U.S. airstrikes explained, the 1973 act wording that U.S. military forces may be used when “there is a national emergency created by an attack on the United States or its territories, possession, or Armed Forces” casts a large enough net to make AUMF less appealing. Trump’s administration used the War Powers Act to justify killing Qasem Soleimani, the Iranian architect of global terror.
Despite Congress’ efforts to reign in the conflict, the tit for tat — trading U.S. airstrikes for Iran-backed militia rocket and drone attacks on U.S. forces — is not likely to cease any time soon.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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