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Congress should step up on the threat of war with Iran

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In about two months, the U.S. military will begin accepting recruits who will most likely deploy to fight in a war in Afghanistan that started before they were born. A very real possibility exists that these young men and women will also have to deploy in support of a conflict with Iran.

Are these deployments necessary for America’s safety and prosperity? Unfortunately, policymakers from both parties have rarely had to answer critical questions like this because, for almost two decades, Congress has mostly chosen to cede its responsibilities for military action to the executive branch, forgoing debate or votes on when, where or why American troops are sent into harm’s way.

Through nearly 18 years of conflict since the 9/11 attacks, this refusal to vote on matters of war and peace has allowed presidential administrations from both parties to engage in armed conflicts without congressional approval. The result has been a series of endless and expanding wars that are not clearly beneficial to our national interest nor supported by a majority of Americans.

A Congress actively engaged in foreign policy would bring a renewed sense of accountability to what has become an almost singular authority concentrated in the executive branch.

In the last six months, we have begun to see some hints of such accountability. Both the House and Senate have shown a renewed interest in asserting themselves in the conduct of American foreign policy — a crucial step in adopting a more restrained approach to the use of military force.

Earlier this year, Congress was united in using the War Powers Act to demand an end to American support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. In June, the House of Representatives passed a measure to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) — a law enacted to authorize force against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, but which has since been used to justify military action all over the world and against groups that did not exist in September 2001. And it might soon be used to justify sending American troops to Iran, unless Congress takes action. 

Leading the charge in the House are Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who introduced a bipartisan amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would require congressional authorization for any use of offensive military force against Iran. The amendment would also clarify that neither the 2001 nor 2002 AUMF (which was passed to authorize the original invasion of Iraq in 2003) can be used to justify military action against Iran. 

Concerned Veterans for America, the organization I work with, is strongly supporting this amendment and encouraging lawmakers to support it as well.

While Iran is by no means a good actor in the Middle East and no friend of the United States, starting a major war with Iran would foolishly repeat many of the same mistakes we made in Iraq — mistakes that would have high costs both in terms of life and resources. 

Iran is largely contained by neighbors with their own incentives for preserving stability in the region. Iran’s ability to directly threaten American security is also limited. Additionally, a war with Iran is not likely to be a quick military engagement. It could lead to yet another endless war in the Middle East, something President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to avoid.

Even if you believe there is an argument for taking military action against Iran, we should still agree that any decision to go to war must be a clear and transparent one debated, voted on, and authorized by our elected representatives.

The Gaetz-Khanna amendment would ensure the American people — particularly our men and women in uniform — are not embroiled in another endless conflict abroad without a clear national security interest at stake or a path to victory. Its passage would be a critical step toward reasserting Congress’ constitutional role as a co-equal branch in matters of armed conflict, which will hopefully lead to a better and more restrained foreign policy in the future. 

Dan Caldwell is a senior adviser for Concerned Veterans for America and veteran of the Iraq War.

Tags authorization for use of military force Donald Trump Matt Gaetz Ro Khanna

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