The U.S. began its latest war in the Middle East one year ago this week, launching a military campaign against ISIS, a long-term battle against terrorists that military experts say could last a decade.
The president has ordered more than 5,000 airstrikes and deployed 3,500 U.S. troops across Iraq and Syria—where ISIS controls territory—but as Congress heads into a month-long recess, lawmakers still have not voted on, or even debated, whether to authorize the war.
“It’s not right that American troops should be putting their lives at risk thousands of miles from home while Congress takes a mandated one month off,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., during an event at the CATO Institute.
Obama claims he has legal ability to continue the war against ISIS under previous authorizations for the use of military force—one passed in 2001 to fight al-Qaeda following September 11, and the other in 2002 to invade Iraq.
The president began airstrikes against ISIS Aug. 8 but did not send a draft of authorization to Congress until six months later, including a message stating that “existing statutes provide me with the authority I need” to continue the war regardless of approval.
Kaine called the justification “ridiculous” and said both Congress and the president have “completely shredded” the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which bars the president from continuing war beyond 90 days unless Congress approves it.
“One year of war against the Islamic State has transformed a president, who was elected in part because of his early opposition to the Iraq War, into an executive war president—maybe a perpetual war president,” said Kaine, who called the war “illegal.”
Congress is also to blame, Kaine continued, noting that lawmakers have done “virtually nothing” to assert their congressional authority to declare war despite bipartisan support in both houses for military action against ISIS. He claimed that at least three-quarters of lawmakers support action.
“One year in, our servicemen our doing their jobs and they’re waiting on us to do ours,” he said.
The day after Obama announced his campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, Kaine authored a resolution that would force Congress to vote on war authorization, but the measure failed immediately.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss an authorization a month after president Obama sent his drafted resolution, but Congress has remained relatively inactive since.
Democrats argue that the president’s draft is not restrictive enough on geographic and temporal limitations, while Republicans find it too restrictive.
Kaine warns that by sidestepping its right to give approval, Congress is presenting “indifference” to ISIS, U.S. allies and the troops fighting the war.
“A debate in Congress by the people’s elected representatives and a vote to authorize the most solemn act of war is how we tell our troops that what they’re doing—what they’re risking their lives for—has purpose, has meaning and has the support of the American people,” he said. “Otherwise we’re asking them to risk their lives without even bothering to discuss whether the mission is something we support.”