After years of sitting back and letting Congressional authority to declare war transfer to the Executive Branch, it appears that some leading Members of the House and Senate are finally waking up to the consequences of their failure. On February 27, the House Progressive Caucus and the House Liberty Caucus joined forces to hold a hearing on the illegal wars raging in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, demanding that Congress take back the war powers authority. The succession of regime change wars of the post 9/11 period have all been justified by the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that was passed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon.
The same day, 100 House Members wrote to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan demanding a new debate on an AUMF related to the ongoing US military operations in Syria. Among the lead signers of the letter was Tom Cole, the fourth ranking Republican in the House. The next day, Senators Bernie Sanders, Chris Murphy and Mike Lee sponsored a resolution demanding an immediate debate and vote on an AUMF on the US engagement in Yemen, which the sponsors asserted was clearly a military action under the War Powers Resolution.
Whether these actions go anywhere is anyone's guess at this point. The more immediate question is: What caused the sudden wake up? Could it be that the ongoing US engagement in Syria is bringing the United States closer by the day to a confrontation with Russia? The situation on the ground in Syria has gotten more and more hazardous in the wake of the routing of ISIS in Raqqa. It is hard to tell, day to day, whether a major incident is going to take place, involving rival parties Turkey, Iran, Israel, Hezbollah, the Shia militias, the remnants of ISIS and Al Qaeda, who still have well-armed forces on the ground. Both Russia and the United States have maintained air and ground forces in Syria. The recent incident involving Shia militias, with Russian mercenaries attacking a Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters with US Special Forces present, resulted in US bombings of the pro-Assad forces, with an unclear number of Russians killed.
How much closer do we have to get to an incident which escalates out of control before Congress finally decides to end the string of illegal wars? It was one thing to illegally invade Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen–who possess second rate military forces at best. It is another thing to be engaging in a conflict that could draw the United States and Russia into a direct confrontation.
I cannot say for certain that this is why more than the usual handful of Members of Congress are sounding the alarm. But I hope so.