After more than a year of combating the so-called Islamic State through the air, the Obama administration, in a swift policy change, announced Friday that US special forces will be deployed to Syria to advise moderate forces fighting the brutal militant group.
That means boots on the ground—in Syria.
Until now, the Obama administration has publicly said it opposed sending troops into Syria. In June, the White House announced 450 additional US troops would be deployed to Iraq, also in an advisory position. Like in Iraq, the several dozen US special forces being deployed are not expected to directly engage with IS, according to reports.
US Special Ops headed to Syria to “advise and assist.” This should end really well.
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) October 30, 2015
Almost immediately, social media users dug up comments made by President Obama with regards to Syria in which he proclaimed that he would not put troops on the ground in the war-torn country, where nearly a quarter of million people have died since the conflict began in 2011, according to reports.
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) October 30, 2015
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 30, 2015
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) October 30, 2015
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 30, 2015
Whatever their mission is, the US military escalation is startling, especially when you consider that Congress has largely abdicated its duties by failing to pass war authorization with regards to Syria. Simply put, Congress, the only branch of government with constitutional power to approve war, has not found the political will to do so—leaving the Obama administration with no choice but to use war authorization from 2001 to justify its bombing campaign and subsequent troop build. Authorization approved by Congress in 2002, known as the Iraq AUMF, is also being utilized to defend the legality of military operations.
Obama in February proposed his own AUMF that would remain in effect for three years, but Congress has yet to vote on it. In June, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif) proposed an amendment that would’ve forced an AUMF vote, but that measure failed.
“If this is worth fighting ISIS, and I believe it is, it’s worth having Congress do its job,” Schiff said in June. Two members of the House of Representatives reacted to Friday’s news by calling for Congress to act on Obama’s AUMF.
— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) October 30, 2015
— Rep. Peter Welch (@PeterWelch) October 30, 2015
Despite authoring its own AUMF, the White House is of the belief that the 2001 AUMF passed soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks gives the executive branch wide latitude to conduct military operations in the Middle East and Africa.
.@PressSec just now: “there is no denying” that Congress gave the president authority to send troops into Syria today thru the 2001 AUMF.
— John Glaser (@jwcglaser) October 30, 2015
The 2001 AUMF gave then President George W. Bush authorization to strike al Qaeda for orchestrating the 9/11 attacks. The same AUMF has been cited to justify drone strikes, including an aerial attack in Yemen that killed a US citizen who became a radical cleric. For years, civil liberties groups have criticized the 2001 AUMF as overbroad.
Even Obama publicly discussed overhauling the 2001 war authorization.
In his remarks in May 2013 at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., Obama said he’d “engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.” And his own national security advisor, Susan Rice, wrote a letter to then Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) calling the 2002 AUMF “outdated.”
With bombing campaigns in more than one country and now with the announcement that US special forces are headed to Syria to assist moderate forces, it’s hard to argue that the US is not at war with ISIS—a war that has yet to be authorized.