During the 2016 GOP presidential primaries and on through to the end of last year’s general election campaign, candidate Donald J. Trump repeatedly derided the fact that the United States had spent upward of $6 trillion dollars on wars in the Middle East because we, in his words, “have nothing to show for it.” One might then have reasonably expected Trump to begin the process of unwinding our overstretched positions in the region when he became president.
On March 9, The New York Times reported that the United States is sending 400 troops to Syria to bolster the small number of American troops that are already on the ground there. A week later, March 15, The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon has drawn up plans to send a 1,000 more troops within the coming weeks. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the coming (and perhaps final) stages of the operation against the Islamic State, the administration has decided to send “an additional 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
The administration, in keeping with Obama and Bush administration policy, is still relying on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) as legal justification for the use of force in Syria. But as Slate’s Joshua Keating has pointed out, the 2001 AUMF “specifically applied to the perpetrators of 9/11 (al-Qaida) and those that harbored them (the then-Taliban-controlled government of Afghanistan).” There is nothing in the language of the AUMF that authorizes military operations in Syria.
And once again, an administration is embarking on a military intervention in the absence of virtually any debate. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations tweeted that he found it “Truly amazing that nobody in DC cares about the US troop increase and mission expansion in Syria.”
Well, not quite nobody.
On Tuesday afternoon, members of the House Progressive Caucus gathered on Capitol Hill to announce their support for HR 1473, the “Prohibit Expansion of US Combat Troops into Syria Act.” The bill, which was introduced by California Democrat Barbara Lee, seeks to “prohibit the deployment of members of the Armed Forces to Syria for purposes of engaging in ground combat operations, and for other purposes.”