Although President Trump’s attempts to assemble a rational and reliable national security team have been marked by turmoil, that unfortunately hasn’t kept him from wielding his powers as commander in chief. In office just over a month, Trump has already directed the nation’s military leaders to fast-track plans for defeating ISIS. So it was not surprising to learn that, according to CNN, the Pentagon might actually be readying a proposal to send US ground troops into northern Syria to augment the special-operations forces there. Although a military spokesman told the Military Times that no announcement is imminent, any such deployment would be a significant escalation by a president who seems far too quick on the trigger.
Certainly there’s room for debate over tactics and strategy in the high-stakes battle to defeat the terrorists who are fighting to erase the lines of modern statehood in the Middle East and establish a medieval caliphate, with borders etched in blood. But the proper forum for that debate is in the halls of Congress, not the confines of the Oval Office or, worse yet, a dinner table at Mar-a-Lago. That’s precisely why Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan should heed a new bipartisan call to schedule a debate and vote on the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
US Representative James McGovern and 18 other lawmakers, including Republicans like Walter Jones of North Carolina and Paul Gosar of Arizona, sent a letter on Feb. 17 urging Ryan to ask Trump to send Congress two authorizations immediately — one for armed forces in Iraq and Syria, and a second to deploy US troops in the Saudi-led war against Houthi forces in Yemen. The letter, which was also signed by Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy, rightly noted that the situation in Yemen is urgent: A US Navy SEAL was killed and others in his company were wounded in a recent battle in Yemen. The botched raid, The New York Times reported, which had been planned during former president Barack Obama’s administration but was approved over dinner at the Trump White House, also reportedly led to civilian deaths that included children.
If Trump fails to send Congress the authorizations, the letter said, House leadership must draft its own and put them up for debate and a vote. “These are urgent matters of national security,” McGovern and his colleagues wrote. They’re also part of the most essential balance of powers when it comes to waging war — McGovern has long been a critic of the expanding powers of the executive branch. He’s correct when he asserts that it’s time for Congress to reclaim its constitutional authority to declare war.
The timing is particularly right because the US campaign against ISIS is making progress, thanks in large part to Obama’s policies. The eastern half of Mosul, in Iraq, was recently wrenched from ISIS control, and a semblance of life has returned to city streets, according to The New York Times. And the top military commander in Iraq, US Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, told the Associated Press that he expects to take the rest of Mosul and the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria “within the next six months.” Unfortunately, Republican and Democrats alike have been reluctant to vote for an AUMF, which would clearly define the US military mission in the Middle East. It’s time for some bipartisan courage, and a vote, before more American lives are put on the line.