Congress Must Assert its Constitutional Role in Escalating U.S. Military Actions in Syria and Iraq

Press Release

Date: Sept. 3, 2014
Location: Duluth, MN
Issues: Defense

Further U.S. military escalation in Syria and Iraq must not be undertaken without the expressed, constitutionally required, approval of Congress, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said today.

Speaking at a news conference in Duluth, Nolan asserted, "Any such ill-conceived escalation would prove to be a tragic and unnecessary waste of blood and treasure for the United States."

Nolan, who was widely recognized for his leadership a year ago in successfully urging President Obama to bring the question of U.S. air strikes against Syria to Congress for a vote, continued:

"The Constitution is crystal clear. Only Congress shall have the power to declare war. The entire Congress . . . all 535 of the people's elected representatives must have a say in the outcome. We need to step up and insist on no less than full Congressional participation."

"The President cannot go it alone in matters of war and peace. The American people will no longer accept or support unilateral decisions by any President -- Democrat or Republican -- to take our nation to war after consulting with only a few Congressional leaders behind closed doors."

Citing reports that there are now more than 1000 U.S. military personnel on the ground in the region, more than 100 recent air strikes executed over Iraq, and "countless unreported covert operations involving the U.S. military and other participants in these conflicts," Nolan added, "the President's most recent decision to authorize surveillance flights over Syria to monitor Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents makes it clear -- despite his protests to the contrary -- that direct U.S. military action may be only days or hours away."

In prepared remarks, Nolan continued:

"The truth of the matter is this. When we become involved in this region militarily, we become part of a thousand-year old sectarian battle in which we have no business, and no friends. Because we have no friends, we become a target of every single one of the warring factions. And the weapons they use against us will be the very same weapons we have provided for them."

"Moreover, once we become re-involved militarily in the region, finding the solution becomes OUR problem. And when we fail -- as inevitably we will -- we only breed more hostility against the United States."

"However, by not becoming involved, finding a solution becomes THEIR problem -- a problem only they can ultimately resolve. We have given them a chance -- 10 years, thousands of precious American lives, and a trillion dollars poured into the all but failed nation of Iraq alone. And we had barely left when the region began descending back into chaos. Now the solution -- if there is a solution -- is up to them."

"The President has been candid about the long and exceedingly difficult challenge we face if we choose to expand our role in this conflict. He terms the new series of air strikes in Iraq "open ended." And just this week, he told the American Legion that the battle against ISIS "will not be easy, and it won't be quick.'"

"Senator John McCain is even more blunt. You can't contain ISIS, he says. You have to defeat it."

"While there is no doubt our military could indeed enter the conflict and achieve a victory, virtually every military expert who has weighed in so far agrees that air strikes alone cannot assure the defeat of the ISIS forces. In fact, victory would require boots on the ground -- similar to our commitment in Vietnam. Retired Major General Lynn Hartsell, who served in Iraq in both Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield and knows the region well, calls U.S. airstrikes against ISIS "pinpricks' that will not deal a decisive blow."

"So let me repeat once again," Nolan concluded. "The President must not attempt to go it alone in matters of war and peace. It is time for Congress to step up and assume its rightful role under the Constitution. We must not permit any further American military escalation or involvement in the Middle East -- or anywhere else -- without the approval of Congress. The Constitution is crystal clear on that point."