“Dear Speaker Ryan: We write to ask that the House of Representatives immediately begin a serious debate and vote on the use of military force in Syria.” So begins a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan that has been signed by more than 100 members of Congress, including several from Texas.
Jeremi Suri, professor and Mack Brown distinguished chair for leadership in Global Affairs at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at UT-Austin, says that the main argument made in the February 27 letter is that the existing authorization for the use of military force does not give the president a blank check to send forces wherever he wishes in perpetuity.
“There are multiple agendas at work here,” Suri says. “There are those that want to limit American activity in the region, and want to use this as a wedge against what they see is a perpetual war. There are others who want to actually raise the American commitment and want to see this as a basis for that. And third – I think most significant of all – there are those in Congress who want to reassure congressional privilege and congressional rights to be consulted in a way they have not been consulted for this administration.”
The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists goes back to the days after the 9/11 attacks. It has been used as justification for attacks around the world against Al-Qaeda and then ISIS.
The letter sent to Ryan this week comes during a week when Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of Russia’s military muscle in Syria, during his State of the Nation Address, which Suri interpreted as “a boy trying to show off his new toys to the world.”
“We have reached actually a caricature moment in our international politics,” Suri says. “We have the President of the U.S., the leader of North Korea, and the President of Russia all trying to show that they are tougher and have nicer toys, and that’s actually quite pathetic. Another reason why members of Congress signed the letter is because they want the administration to actually put together a policy, not simply a parading of American muscle.”
So far, American forces haven’t been very effective at containing the Russian influence in Syria, Suri says.
“There’s no point on having a military presence if that military presence is not making the situation better for those on the ground, nor actually containing Russian power,” Suri says. “I would support limited military action that actually achieved our aims, but right now the members of Congress who signed this letter seem to believe that our military force is not achieving our aims there.”
The letter could have a real impact in the context of the coming midterm election, since it has some Republican signers, according to Suri.
“That’s going to be a very tough election for the majority of the Republican party,” he says. “And American military activity in Syria, and elsewhere such as it is, is not popular with most Americans.”
Written by César Lopez-Linares.