Rand Paul’s correct: Sending Americans back to Iraq is illegal

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is correct in claiming that President Obama’s decision to send 1,500 more soldiers back to Iraq is illegal. We now have over 3,000 American soldiers back in a country we left in 2011, when the president fulfilled a promise of ending the Iraq War. The illegality of the Obama’s decision lies in the fact that Congress has not been consulted on matters that could easily lead to another war. Sending military advisers to train Iraqis seems to be a last ditch effort at succumbing to media and political pressure on the part of our president. Nobody wants to be in the White House if Bagdad falls to ISIL, but Saigon fell in 1975 and Gerald Ford didn’t send Americans back to Vietnam. ISIL indeed poses a threat, but not enough of threat to jettison Constitutional principles in the name of national security. 

Paul, in a recent Daily Beast op-ed, explains exactly why Obama is breaching certain laws by increasing troop levels without consulting the American people. The Kentucky senator cites both the Constitution and the War Powers Act to highlight Obama’s overreach in doubling the size of our military presence in Iraq: 

“If the Constitution were not enough, the War Powers Act reiterates the legislature’s prerogative. The War Powers Act does not allow for any military action to take place that is not authorized by Congress or to repel imminent attack. Period. The only exception is military action to repel an imminent attack. In that case, the president has 60 days to report to Congress. Obviously, it’s an exception that doesn’t apply to any of our current wars.”

The president’s authority to send Americans back to war is limited, yet he’s acted unilaterally on an issue that could easily spiral beyond his control. Therefore, if Congress is not consulted about a potentially renewed conflict involving Americans in Iraq, the legality of Obama’s recent decision to send troops back “into harm’s way” is questionable. Also, ISIL is evil and genocidal, but it does not represent an “imminent attack” on America, even if their beheading videos have influenced much of the president’s decision making process. 

We’ve already learned from JFK and LBJ that hundreds of military advisers can lead to tens of thousands of soldiers in the blink of an eye. In Vietnam, we went from just over 700 advisors in 1962 to over 11,000 in late 1963, so the precedent has been set, as has the precedent regarding our involvement in counterinsurgency conflicts. In Vietnam, Iraq, and today in Afghanistan, we faced an unseen enemy that blended back into the local population after ambushing our soldiers and planting IED’s. For this reason, USA Today states “between more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been victims of IEDs.” Of the 4,488 Americans who’ve died in Iraq and the 2,350 Americans who’ve died in Afghanistan, over 3,100 deaths have been the result of IED’s. IED’s have also resulted in 31,000 wounded American soldiers as well. Any renewed military endeavors in Iraq will involve IED’s, ambushes, suicide bombers, Sunni vs. Shia clashes, and everything else our soldiers had left in 2011. The least President Obama owes America is a debate within Congress, especially since we could be heading towards another Iraq War. 

To send Americans back into a country in the midst of war, with vast areas controlled by an offshoot of al-Qaeda (a group we had destroyed in Iraq, but then like a hydra simply grew another appendage) makes little military sense, and according to Paul, makes absolutely no sense from a legal standpoint. Furthermore, Paul is also right to call out the hypocrisy of liberals pertaining to Obama’s latest military decisions: 

“For a generation, Democrats stood up against Republican presidents who they deemed to be too eager to go to war—or too ready to put troops in harm’s way without the full consent of the American people through their elected representatives in Congress. Where have those Democratic protectors of the constitutional authority of Congress gone? Was it always just a partisan attack on Republican presidents?”

I’m a liberal, a Democrat, and I’m waiting for fellow liberals to be as outraged as I am about the president’s decision to send soldiers back into a quagmire. Is Paul right about the hypocrisy of Democrats? I hate to say it, but he’s absolutely correct in this respect, and in regards to this issue. 

It’s an interesting time in American politics when Rand Paul is protecting liberal values and Democrats haven’t uttered a word of indignation over Obama’s decision to send troops back into war. Congress and the American people should be debating the troop level decisions, and until then, the legality of sending more American soldiers back into a war that already ended is highly questionable. Paul is correct, Obama has exceeded his authority on this matter, succumbed to media and political pressures, and has ignored the lessons of the Iraq War. Most importantly, he’s ignored the laws already in place limiting his authority to send Americans into battle and everyone should be outraged. 

Goodman is an author, columnist, and contributor to the Times of Israel and other publications.

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