The White House is continuing its march to war with Iran, but resistance is growing—most recently by a group of 62 organizations that issued an open letter to Congress on Tuesday calling for the representative body to exercise its power and stop U.S. aggression. 

“When a nuclear-armed country like the United States is involved, there is always a chance that conventional war could escalate into a nuclear war, with millions of deaths, nuclear winter, and mass starvation.”
—Dr. Gwen DuBois

In the letter, the 62 groups call on Congress to “fulfill its constitutional duty and enact further constraints to unequivocally prevent the administration from launching an unauthorized war.”

The push to war has been led mainly by President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump himself has been noncommittal, expressing support and hesitance in nearly equal measure depending on the day. 

Nevertheless, a number of the letter’s signatories said in a statement, the administration’s actions require pushback from Congress.

“Trump and his National Security Advisor John Bolton are taking this country to the brink of a completely avoidable military confrontation,” said Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian-American Council. “It’s time for Congress to turn its words into action by passing legislation to stop Trump and Bolton from starting an illegal war.”

Under the Constitution, only Congress has the ability to declare war. But that right has been eroded over the last seven decades as presidents have used language like “police actions” and other euphemisms to go around Congress and start wars at will. The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has been used (pdf) over 37 times by Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Trump in over 14 countries. 

Still, there’s a sense that Congress may finally be ready to take its duties seriously. The House has become progressively warmer in recent years to legislation by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—the lone vote against war in the wake of the 2001 attacks—to restrict the use of the AUMF.

In response to congressional cooling on war, the administration on Tuesday used a briefing from Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan to continue to raise the specter of a vicious, calculating foe while telling members of Congress that the threat, for now, has abated. 

“I’d say we’re in a period where the threat remains high,” Shanahan told reporters Tuesday. “And our job is to make sure that there is no miscalculation by the Iranians.”

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