California congressmember and chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force. She is also the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
A year ago today, President Obama sought congressional approval to attack the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The request came six months after the U.S. began bombing Iraq and Syria. The resolution imposed a three-year limit on U.S. operations but did not put any geographic constraints. It also opened the door for ground combat operations in limited circumstances. However, Congress has yet to hold the constitutionally mandated debate and vote on the war against ISIL. Instead, the strikes have been carried out using an outdated authorization passed by Congress in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Now, over 20 members of Congress have sent a bipartisan letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling for a debate and vote on the multibillion-dollar war raging in the Middle East. We speak to one of the signatories, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). She’s the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force and the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Today marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization for war against the Islamic State. The request came six months after the U.S. began bombing Iraq and Syria. Speaking on February 11th, 2015, Obama unveiled the resolution at the White House flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Today my administration submitted a draft resolution to Congress to authorize the use of force against ISIL. I want to be very clear about what it does and what it does not do. This resolution reflects our core objective to destroy ISIL. It supports the comprehensive strategy that we’ve been pursuing with our allies and our partners—a systemic and sustained campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria; support and training for local forces on the ground, including the moderate Syrian opposition; preventing ISIL attacks in the region and beyond, including by foreign terrorist fighters who try to threaten our countries; regional and international support for an inclusive Iraqi government that unites the Iraqi people and strengthens Iraqi forces against ISIL; humanitarian assistance for the innocent civilians of Iraq and Syria, who are suffering so terribly under ISIL’s reign of horror.
AMY GOODMAN: The resolution imposed a three-year limit on U.S. operations but did not put any geographic constraints. It also opened the door for ground combat operations in limited circumstances. However, Congress has yet to hold the constitutionally mandated debate and vote on the war against ISIL. Instead, the strikes have been carried out using an outdated authorization passed by Congress in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In his State of the Union address, President Obama renewed his call for a congressional debate on the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If this Congress is serious about winning this war and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote. Take a vote.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: This comes as a new report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research says 11.5 percent of Syria’s population has either been killed or injured since 2011. About 470,000 Syrians have been killed in the ongoing conflict. Nearly 2 million people have been wounded.
AMY GOODMAN: Now over 20 members of Congress have sent a bipartisan letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling for a debate and vote on the multibillion-dollar war raging in the Middle East. One of the co-signatories, Barbara Lee, wrote, quote, "Our nation has become increasingly more embroiled in yet another costly and endless war in the Middle East. The Constitution is clear: Congress has a responsibility to debate and vote on matters of war and peace. The American people deserve better than a Congress that abdicates this sacred responsibility."
In a moment, we’ll be joined by Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California. She’s the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Task Force and the former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. I believe she’s just run down the hall, put on her microphone.
Congressmember Barbara Lee, welcome to Democracy Now!
REP. BARBARA LEE: Good morning. Glad to be with you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. So, it was a year ago today that President Obama asked for a debate on war. What has happened since? Certainly, the war has expanded. Where is the permission?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Yeah, well, and we were very pleased that the president asked for an authorization, because many of us, several years before that even, fought to try to get a new authorization, understanding and seeing what was taking place as it relates to Syria, Libya and the entire new front on this war. And it’s very important to recognize that we haven’t had an authorization since the 2001 authorization, which I voted against. Then, I said it was a blank check. And it was. And now that authorization is being used to continue with these new wars. And I think that it’s time that Congress really do its job. The president has asked us to do our job. We wrote to the speaker several months ago. We wrote to him again yesterday. We have over 25 members, bipartisan, requesting for an authorization. And it’s time for the American people to demand that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Representative Barbara Lee, could you tell us how the speaker has responded to your repeated requests?
REP. BARBARA LEE: We have not, to date, have—we have not had a response. But I’ve heard the speaker say he was looking at bringing forward a new authorization. But we haven’t had a direct response, nor do we know what the latest is in terms of his thinking. But I would hope that the speaker understands it. Under his watch, he said, he wanted what we call regular order. He wanted us to uphold our job as members, responsible members of Congress. The Constitution requires us to do that. So, we are hopeful that the speaker will live up to his commitment to really do what the American people want.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have written a petition, is that right?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Yes, we’ve written a petition. People are signing the petition. And we’re asking people to really sign on. And that’s the power of the people in America. We want to have the voices of people heard here in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Representative Barbara Lee, do you think that a military response is the only way to deal with the—with ISIS?
REP. BARBARA LEE: Let me go back to the petition first. It’s StopEndlessWar.com. And I want people to know how to really sign onto the petition.
But I have a resolution—it’s H.J.Res.30—which really talks about a comprehensive strategy to address ISIS. No one believes that ISIS is not a dangerous terrorist organization and that they must be dismantled, but the military-first option is not always the best option to really create the reduction of tension and to mitigate against more terrorist attacks and more terror in the region. We do not need boots on the ground. We do not need to have ground troops in the region to conduct—you know, to be part of a civil war that’s taking place. And so, we have to look at a comprehensive strategy, a political solution, an economic and diplomatic solution, that would, you know, begin to reduce tensions and bring some semblance of global peace and security. Right now, military first, for me and for many of us, that is not the way we dismantle and disable ISIS so that we can have peace in the region and throughout the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something about a news headline we just read. Secretary of State John Kerry just condemned the Assad government and the Russian military’s use of cluster bombs in Syria. Right now, since 2011, 11 percent of the Syrian population has been killed or maimed. Yet he didn’t talk about the use of cluster bombs by the U.S.-backed Syrian—the U.S.-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen that is taking place now.
REP. BARBARA LEE: That, once again, Amy, what I’m saying is, these wars that are taking place, they’re dangerous. They’re creating more death and destruction, and they’re creating more of a refugee crisis than the world really knew could even happen as a result of the bombing and, you know, the civil wars. And so it’s important, I believe, that we look at this and Congress debate it and that the diplomatic initiative be increased and doubled, because at this point we’re going to see more refugees, more—a larger humanitarian crisis, and we’re going to really begin to see more havoc that’s being wreaked throughout the world. And so, whenever you’re talking about bombing, you have to understand that there are going to—there will be collateral damage, there will be humanitarian impacts. And we’re seeing this crisis emerge. That is why we need to have a debate in Congress and look at alternatives. And that doesn’t preclude military action now. No one is saying that’s off the table. We’re just saying that there has got to be a way—whether it’s Yemen, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Libya, wherever it is, there’s got to be a comprehensive approach to begin to dismantle, disable ISIS, and to create some path to peace and security.