Congressman Peter Welch has done his due diligence. He has studied the circumstances on the ground in Syria and surrounding countries. He has traveled to the region as part of a congressional oversight trip. He has visited centers for refugees on the Syrian-Turkey border. The Vermont Democrat, who serves on the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense, and Foreign Operations of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has gone out of his way to engage in debates, discussions, and inquiries regarding US policy in the region.
So the congressman’s words should carry particular weight when he discusses last week’s decision by President Obama to put US troops on the ground in Syria. After the president—who once declared, unequivocally, that “we’re not considering any boots-on-the-ground approach” in Syria—ordered several dozen Special Operations troops into Syria for what The New York Times describes as “the first open-ended mission by United States ground forces in that country,” Welch said: “Make no mistake about it, this is a war.”
It is not, however, a clearly declared or authorized war.
As Welch observes: “The legal framework justifying this war is loosely tied to the fumes of a Congressional authorization approved in response to the 9/11 attack on America over 14 years ago.”
That’s an absurd construct, argues Welch.
“A civil war in Syria did not exist 14 years ago. ISIS did not exist 14 years ago. Neither the United States nor Russia were conducting military operations in Syria 14 years ago,” notes the congressman, who says it is time for Congress to focus on the question of whether the United States should be engaged in a new war in the Middle East.
“The biggest question raised by [deployment] announcement is, ‘When will Congress finally accept its responsibility?’” says Welch, who adds that “The Constitution is clear that only Congress can authorize war.”
Welch is not alone in expressing concern about a military intervention that is expanding in scope and character—in Syria and in Iraq—without adequate approval or oversight from Congress.
“I am deeply concerned by escalating mission creep in Syria, especially since Congress has yet to debate the costs and consequences of this military operation,” says Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-California, a longtime supporter of the president who served as a Representative of the United States to the 68th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. “The Constitution is clear: the power to declare war rests with Congress. We serve as the voice of the American people—our actions in Congress should reflect that sacred responsibility.”