Barbara Lee wants Congress is get serious about issues of war and peace.
The California congresswoman who cast the sole vote against authorizing George W. Bush to wage an ill-defined “war on terror” has been the House’s most consistent advocate for greater congressional engagement in debates about US foreign policy—and for seeking smart and comprehensive alternatives to endless war. In this pursuit, Lee has been willing to criticize Republican and Democratic administrations that seek blank checks from Congress. And she has often developed bipartisan coalitions to demand accountability from presidents and the Pentagon.
Lee is pleased that President Obama has come to Congress seeking a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the fight with Islamic State (ISIL), as she has for years complained about the failure of the White House to bring Congress into the deliberations about questions of war and peace.
But she is not satisfied with what Obama is proposing.
“I have serious concerns about the proposed authorization’s overly broad language and lack of geographic or other limitations,” says Lee. “Most importantly, I am deeply concerned about the lack of repeal language for the 2001 AUMF, which has been and would remain a blank check for endless war.”
“For far too long,” adds the California Democrat, “our nation has been engaged in perpetual war. It is past time for Congress to re-establish the checks and balances laid out in our Constitution.”
This is not just about declarations of war and authorizations of the use of force. This goes deeper.
“We can all agree that ISIL and their actions are horrific and barbaric. As we work to degrade and dismantle ISIL, we must be comprehensive in our strategy. National security experts have clearly stated that there is no military solution to ISIL,” explains Lee, who in 2013 was nominated by President Obama to serve as a representative of the United States to the Sixty-eighth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. “In order to ultimately degrade and dismantle ISIL, we must craft a robust regionally-led, political, economic and diplomatic strategy.
To that end, Lee and Congressman Mike Honda, D-California, have introduced legislation that would—within ninety days of its passage—require President Obama to submit to Congress a “comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic and regionally-led strategy to degrade and dismantle” ISIL. (The measure has attracted a number of co-sponsors, including the senior Democrat in the House, Michigan’s John Conyers, as well as the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, and Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison. Among the other co-sponsors are Congressman Alan Grayson, D-Florida, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, and Congressman Richard Nolan, D-Minnesota.)
“It would be a tremendous error for our Congress to finally debate a long overdue authorization for the ongoing war against ISIL and neglect the important non-military options that comprise a comprehensive solution,” explains Lee. “While this legislation prevents the deployment of US ground troops, it does not close the door for military action. Congress will have to debate and vote on any authorization for the use of force. Any comprehensive strategy must address the underlying political, economic and diplomatic elements that have contributed to ISIL.”
The approach proposed by Lee and Honda has drawn praise from observers who recognize that the smart response to what is happening in Iraq and Syria must involve more than another ill-defined AUMF.
Robert Naiman, the policy director of Just Foreign Policy, hailed Lee for focusing on the role of the United Nations in general, and in particular on “her efforts to ensure full implementation of UN resolutions calling for UN member states to act to stop the flow of foreign fighters and foreign financing to support ISIL.”
“We are encouraged that a Member of Congress has stepped forward to boldly state that our endless war is not working,” adds Diane Randall, the executive secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. “As the only Member who voted against the AUMF in 2001, Rep. Lee’s leadership in now proposing a repeal of that blank check for war is offering instead the political and diplomatic solutions to the crises our failed policies helped create.”