- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called on lawmakers to oppose the Senate repeal of the presidential authorization for use of military force in Iraq, warning that the move would further embolden Iran.

The Kentucky Republican said last week’s attacks on U.S. troops by Iranian-backed militias in Syria should serve as a harbinger of further challenges in the region. This comes as the Senate advances legislation to repeal the 2002 authorization Congress passed greenlighting the Iraq War as well as a 1991 authorization allowing U.S. military action in the Gulf War.

Iraq has come under extremely heavy influence and manipulation from Iran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has spent years standing up political parties, militias and terrorist proxies in Iraq whose chief loyalty is to Tehran,” Mr. McConnell said. “Our enemies in Iran who have spent two decades targeting and killing Americans in the Middle East would be delighted to see America dial down our military presence, authorities and activities in Iraq.”

He added, “Tehran wants to push us out of Iraq and Syria. Why should Congress make that easier?”

The Senate measure to repeal the two AUMFs has received bipartisan support throughout procedural votes in recent weeks. The bill is on track for final passage in the chamber as soon as this week.

The push to repeal the authorizations has become a perennial fight on Capitol Hill. Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat and the only member of Congress to vote against the 2001 AUMF authorizing the U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, has for years led the effort in the House to reclaim congressional authority to wage war.

The strikes in Syria have spotlighted a key concern among those who oppose an all-out repeal of the 2002 AUMF without a replacement. Critics say without the war authorization in place, the commander-in-chief’s hands would be tied in responding to the persistent threats from Iranian-backed militias in the region and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Roughly 900 U.S. military personnel and hundreds of Pentagon contractors are stationed in Syria. Last week a suspected Iranian-made drone was used in an attack that killed an American contractor and wounded several troops stationed in the country. That assault sparked a series of tit-for-tat attacks between the U.S. and Iranian-backed groups, raising fears of an escalating conflict.

President Biden warned last week that he stands prepared to “act forcefully” to protect U.S. citizens from attacks in Syria while stressing that he does not seek a widening clash between the U.S. and Iran.

“Make no mistake, the United States does not, does not I emphasize, seek conflict with Iran,” Mr. Biden said. “But be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people. That’s what happened last night.”

Mr. Biden has previously registered his support for appealing the authorizations, arguing they are outdated.

The administration has also strayed from previous administrations’ tendency to lean on the 2002 AUMF for engagements in the region, citing Article 2 of the Constitution for 2022 airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia fighters in Iraq and Syria.

In his letters to Congress last week outlining his authorization for the recent strikes in Syria, Mr. Biden again strayed from citing the 2002 AUMF as providing the legal foundation for the strike.

Still, Republicans have criticized Mr. Biden in the aftermath of the recent attack, noting an uptick in attacks on U.S. forces by Iranian-backed groups and accusing the president of failing to meet the onslaughts with sufficient aggression in response.

“After a small initial response from the Biden administration, Iran launched yet more attacks over the weekend, aimed at killing even more Americans,” Mr. McConnell said. “Our president’s response to this escalation seems to have been to pull his punches and let Tehran have the last word.”

Mr. McConnell said the attacks should serve as a wake-up call for lawmakers as the chamber considers the measure to roll back war powers in the region.

“While the Senate’s been engaged in this abstract, theoretical debate about rolling back American power, Iran has continued its deadly attacks on us,” he said. “Some in America may think our war against terrorism is sunsetting, but clearly the terrorists do not agree.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, have signaled the Senate repeal will not get a rubber stamp in the lower chamber, saying they will work to modernize the presidential war powers rather than repeal them outright.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul, Texas Republican, last week said he wants to update the AUMF.

Congress needs to own a comprehensive replacement AUMF in consultation with our military commanders and the intelligence community,” Mr. McCaul told The Washington Times. “Piecemeal repeal of those Iraq authorities is not a serious contribution to war powers reform.”

• Susan Ferrechio contributed to this story.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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