Congress has been missing in action on war and peace. It’s time to change that
The United States has been at war in the Middle East for almost 20 years. We’ve spent trillions of dollars, lost thousands of service members and innocent civilians, all while neglecting our constitutional duty to debate and vote on matters of war and peace. And while there has been no military solution in the Middle East — our military presence has increased dramatically under President Trump.
When President Trump authorized the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani last month, he not only ignored the Constitution but also dragged our nation deeper into an intractable and dangerous conflict. Make no mistake — these reckless actions have brought us to the brink of an all-out war with Iran. Since day one of his administration, the president and his Cabinet have sought to provoke war with Iran. They have chosen to shun diplomacy at every step, instead pursuing a “maximum pressure” campaign that has done nothing but inflame tensions. Enough is enough. Let’s be clear: Congress has been missing in action for far too long. We have a constitutional responsibility to stand up and stop President Trump from starting an unauthorized and illegal war with Iran. That’s why the House of Representatives passed two measures to reclaim our constitutional duty. One is Rep. Barbara Lee’s legislation to repeal the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force for Iraq, and the other is Rep. Ro Khanna’s legislation to block any federal funding for a military offensive against Iran without congressional approval. This language is not new, nor is it controversial. Both bills passed the House last summer as amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act and received overwhelming bipartisan support. They were later stripped from the bill by Senate leadership at the administration’s behest — and now we know why.
For almost two decades, the executive branch has had unchecked power and authority on war and peace due to the overly broad 2001 authorization of military force — something that Lee warned against when she was the sole vote against the measure. Congress must act. By leaving the outdated authorization on the books, we are abdicating our constitutional authority on matters of war and peace, putting our troops in harm’s way in the process. This is especially outrageous when you consider that more than 75% of the members currently serving in Congress were not in office when the 2001 and 2002 military force bills passed. Congress must also invoke its strongest constitutional power, the power of the purse, to make clear we will not allow any funds to be used for an offensive and unconstitutional war against Iran. The American people and our brave troops deserve for Congress to debate and vote on whether to send our troops into another unnecessary and catastrophic war of choice in the Middle East. And while the president reported to Congress that the strikes against Iran were in response to an “imminent threat,” that claim has been disputed by members of his own administration. Right now, the president’s strategy appears to be dragging our troops deeper into war, while turning away vulnerable families fleeing conflict and violence.
There is no victory in endless war. And Congress has failed the American people by accepting this state of affairs, ceding its ownership and oversight of military action in the process. Congress must go back to the drawing board and reassert itself before any more lives are lost to these undefined, unauthorized conflicts. Especially in war, the will of the American people, not the whims of any president, must prevail. Together with the American people, we can and must come together to put a check on this president and stop the march to war.Barbara Lee represents District 13 (including Oakland and much of northern Alameda County) in the House of Representatives; Ro Khanna represents District 17 (parts of Alameda County and Silicon Valley) in the House.