Oregon Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have announced among other proposals a bipartisan resolution underscoring their position that any future war must be considered and authorized by Congress.
Specifically, the resolution states that neither the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed following the 9/11 attacks nor the 2002 authorization against Iraq legally justify the use of military force against Iran.
Merkley led the resolution along with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who serves with Merkley on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Senate resolution comes after days of escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. Merkley said it was time to send a clear message that the danger of taking the nation to war is too great for any president to decide.
“The American people do not want another endless war in the Middle East—yet what we’ve seen in recent days is a president willing to make significant military decisions bringing us closer to war without consulting Congress or recognizing that our Constitution gives war making power to Congress, not the president,” Merkley said.
Wyden said Republican President Donald Trump’s use of force has made the Middle East a more dangerous place. He said the Senate must make its own statement that there’s no congressional authorization for use of military force against Iran. Previously, Merkley floated the Constitutional Consideration for Use of Force Act, legislation repealing the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs and preventing any new terrorism-related AUMF.
“Our country is a nation of laws, and Trump can’t be allowed to scheme his way around those laws to go off on erratic and risky overseas adventures that endanger lives,” Wyden said.
The Senators announced the resolution shortly after receiving a classified briefing from top White House officials. The administration has said the drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani prevented an imminent threat, was retribution for past terrorist acts, and served to defend Iraq.
Soleimani, a top commander Iranian military commander, was the head of the elite Quds Force, part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the Trump administration.
“Gen. Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” an administration statement said. “Gen. Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.
“He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months, including the attack on Dec. 27, culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. Gen. Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad,” the administration statement said.
“Qassem Soleimani was a bad man with a lot of blood on his hands, but Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate him was a reckless escalation that will take us further down the road to ruinous war,” Wyden said. “A president has the responsibility to ensure that all necessary steps have been taken to protect vulnerable American military and civilian targets before taking such a precipitous act.”
Wyden and Merkley also joined with five Senate Democrats to introduce a resolution condemning Trump’s threats to attack cultural sites in Iran and demanding he refrain from violating the laws of armed conflict.
The Senate resolution was in response to Trump’s threats on Twitter and in a press conference that the United States would make cultural sites a target of attack if conflict with Iran escalated. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said that the Pentagon would not violate the laws of armed conflict by attacking Iranian cultural sites. Trump has since backed down from threats to target Iranian cultural sites.
The condemnation highlights Geneva Conventions articles that prohibit hostility against cultural objects, similar guidelines in the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and the Department of Defense Law of War Manual that states “[c]ultural property, the areas immediately surrounding it, and appliances in use for its protection should be safeguarded and respected.”
Wyden recently joined Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) to support a war powers resolution that he said would force a debate and vote in Congress to prevent further escalation of hostilities with Iran. Wyden said in town halls this past weekend he heard from Oregonians concerned that the president is pushing towards war.
“We cannot allow Trump’s rash approach to foreign policy continue to put American lives in danger at home and abroad,” Wyden said. “Congress must act now.”
Wyden voted against the Iraq War and says he has consistently opposed foreign military action. He has in the past raised concerns over presidential efforts to expand the use of military force without congressional authorization. In 2019, Wyden also supported the Prevention of Unconstitutional War with Iran Act and voted against the National Defense Authorization Act in December.
Wyden said the war powers resolution underscores that Congress has the sole power to declare war, as laid out in the Constitution. The resolution requires that any hostilities with Iran must be explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force but does not prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack.
“The resolution will force a public debate and vote in Congress as intended by the framers of the Constitution to determine whether United States forces should be engaged in these hostilities,” a statement from Wyden’s office said.