Given the omnipresence of John McCain and Lindsey Graham on the Sunday morning talk shows, it’s easy to believe everyone in Washington wants to resume the Iraq War. But some lawmakers actually want to bring the war to a formal and legal conclusion, over two years after American troops departed.
Last week, Rand Paul joined with two Democratic senators—Ron Wyden of Oregon and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York—in introducing a resolution to repeal the Iraq authorization of military force. The cosponsors included Republican Mike Lee of Utah and prominent Democrats like Elizabeth Warren and Montana’s Jon Tester.
“Two years ago, President Obama declared the war in Iraq over,” Paul said in a statement. “With the return of our troops and practical side of the mission concluded, I feel it is necessary to bring the war to an official and legal end.”
“I was one of 23 senators who voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2002 because I was never presented with compelling evidence of a clear and present threat to our domestic security,” Wyden concurred. “Now that American troops have come home, it makes sense to bring this chapter in our nation’s history to a close.”
Isn’t this formality unnecessary, since the troops withdrew at the end of 2011? The recent saber-rattling by the likes of McCain and Graham, who point to the fall of Fallujah and blame the Obama administration for not successfully negotiating to keep the troops in place, suggests that it is not.
“I’ve heard members of Congress suggest this but if members are suggesting Americans should be fighting and dying in Fallujah, they should say so,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “The president doesn’t believe that.”
Neither do the American people. According to a Rasmussen poll, only one in four favor taking military action even if Fallujah is a harbinger for the rest of the country. On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Gallup found that 53 percent believed the war was a mistake. This included nearly a third of Republicans. By the time the withdrawal began, 78 percent of Americans were supportive.
But that doesn’t mean no future president will try to buck public opinion. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, briefly the 2012 Republican frontrunner and a possible candidate next time around, floated the idea of reinvading Iraq during the campaign. McCain worried it was too late.
It is possible that some crisis would generate interest in returning to Iraq, with the outstanding authorization of force used as legal justification. In the run-up to the Iraq war, some argued an invasion was already authorized by the 1991 Persian Gulf War resolution. This reportedly included some lawyers for George W. Bush.
Paul said the repeal bill “ensures that our military involvement in Iraq is officially closed and that any future engagement will require Congressional authorization and support, as required by the Constitution.”
Wyden added, “While sectarian conflict and violence still persist in Iraq, it must be the Iraqis—not the men and women of the U.S. military—who now make the difficult choices, forge a stable and inclusive political order and steer their country to peace and prosperity.”
The last time the Senate voted on repealing the Iraq war resolution, the bid failed 67 to 30. Lee is a Republican convert to the pro-repeal side, having voted no in November 2011. But two other Republicans who voted to end the war—Olympia Snowe of Maine and Jim DeMint of South Carolina (and, more recently, the Heritage Foundation)—are gone. Dean Heller of Nevada remains.
Warren makes a crucial point: “This bill is a reminder that Congressional authorization for the use of force should be limited and that military action is always a last resort.” It’s a reminder many politicians need, as hawks shift their focus to Iran.
In a thoughtful Federalist piece, David Harsanyi pushes back against equating support for additional Iran sanctions with support for war. Some senators probably genuinely hope sanctions will bolster nuclear negotiations with Iran. Indeed, Gillibrand is a sponsor of the Paul-Wyden Iraq repeal resolution and a co-sponsor of the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill.
But it doesn’t escape notice that many Kirk-Menendez supporters seem dubious of diplomacy. If they are unwilling to tolerate Iranian nuclear weapons, what option does that leave if they are developed? Graham has outlined what his view of diplomacy looks like: “Once you get them to the table you let them know what the final deal will look like and say take this or else.”
How likely is that approach to succeed? Graham is already on record as supporting another authorization of force—this time for Iran. McCain has famously sung songs about bombing that country. Some of the most prominent Democratic sanctions supporters, including Chuck Schumer and Steny Hoyer, previously backed the Iraq war.
Meanwhile, Paul is one of only two Republicans senators who aren’t co-sponsoring the Iran sanctions bill. Wyden signed a letter opposing sanctions at this time. And the language coming from sanctions supporters isn’t exactly sanguine. “The path of appeasers always leads directly to war–it just increases the appetite of the other side,” said Republican Mark Kirk of Kirk-Menendez fame. “Appeasers always lead directly to war.”
So do congressional authorizations to use military force. Let’s hope that Congress repeals the Iraq war authorization—and gives serious thought to what such a resolution would mean for Iran.
W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?