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Matt Gaetz leads Wednesday to bring all US troops home from Syria

The war powers bill will require President Biden to remove Armed Forces within 180 days

Reporting | Middle East

UPDATE: 3/7 7:30 p.m. ET: The Congressional Progressive Caucus is urging a "yes" vote on the War Powers Resolution, according to the Intercept's Ryan Grim.

The House is expected to vote on Wednesday on a War Powers Resolution introduced by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) last week. The bill would force a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Syria following a recent incident in which four American soldiers were injured during a raid that killed an ISIS leader.

“Congress has never authorized the use of military force in Syria,” Gaetz said in the press release that accompanied the announcement of a similar bill late last month. “The United States is currently not in a war with or against Syria, so why are we conducting dangerous military operations there?”

The bill is the latest in a series of congressional efforts to end the little-known U.S. military presence in Syria. As of December, there are still approximately 900 American soldiers in the country, where they continue to conduct operations against ISIS alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces.

On Saturday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, traveled to Syria, where he met with U.S. troops stationed in the northeast of the country. During his visit, Milley said Washington’s military presence there was critical to the security of both the U.S. and its allies. 

“If you think that that’s important, then the answer is ‘Yes,’” Milley said when asked if the deployment of troops in Syria was worth the risk, according to Reuters. “So I think that an enduring defeat of ISIS and continuing to support our friends and allies in the region … I think those are important tasks that can be done.” 

Gaetz responded to Milley’s trip in a press release over the weekend, saying “America has no discernible interest in continuing to fund a fight where alliances shift faster than the desert sands. … If General Milley wants this war so bad, he should explain what we are fighting for and why it is worth American treasure and blood.” 

 Gaetz’s resolution is also part of a continuing effort by legislators and activists to return warmaking power to Congress. “Article I, section 8 of the Constitution is clear: Only Congress can declare war,” Hassan el-Tayyab, Legislative Director for Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, told Responsible Statecraft. “This resolution reasserts congressional war powers on an important issue of whether or not U.S. troops should be stationed in Syria."

Separately, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote this week on a bill which would repeal the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force against Iraq. On Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he will introduce an  amendment to repeal the 2001 AUMF, which gives the executive expansive powers to respond to those deemed responsible for the 9/11 attacks, at tomorrow’s SFRC business meeting.

"Endless war weakens our national security, adds to our skyrocketing debt, and creates more enemies. For years I’ve led the fight to return war making powers back to Congress where they belong, and I’m proud to continue those efforts by introducing an amendment to add repeal of the 9/11 AUMF to the Kaine bill repealing the 1991 and 2002 Iraq AUMF’s” said Paul. "Over 20 US military actions are justified by claiming the 9/11/2001 AUMF authorizes worldwide military force.  My amendment would make clear that the current Congress must authorize current war not a congress from two decades ago."

Each president since Barack Obama has held that the U.S. mission in Syria is covered by this 2001 statute, because it authorized the use of force against al-Qaida and associated groups, which executives have argued applies to ISIS. But many experts and lawmakers — including some from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party — contend that this is an overly broad interpretation of the post-9/11 law. 

In 2017, a bipartisan group of House members called on then-Speaker Paul Ryan to bring a resolution which would have brought the issue of war powers to the floor.

“The failure of Congress to address these issues with a debate and vote on an AUMF during the final three years of the Obama Administration established a dangerous precedent for the presidency, one where the President of the United States may deploy or threaten deployment of U.S. troops to any region for any purpose without the consent and explicit authorization of Congress,” they wrote.    

Last year, 155 members of the House — including Gaetz, Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) — voted for an amendment to the NDAA, introduced by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), that would have cut funding for the Syria deployment within a year if Congress failed to pass a separate authorization.

Gaetz’s bill approaches the issue a little differently. His initial proposal, which was not brought to the floor, called on “the President to remove the United States Armed Forces from Syria by not later than the date that is 15 days after the date of the adoption of this concurrent resolution.” The bill which will be voted on on Wednesday extended that timeline to 180 days, though both represent quicker turnarounds than the full-year timetable from the Bowman amendment.

Gaetz speaking at a Donald Trump event in June 2020 (Source: Gage Skidmore)
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