There is no power or responsibility that the government possesses that is more awesome or grave than that of deciding whether to send our armed forces off to war. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution very specifically gives that obligation to the Congress.
Now, presidents have been brazenly overstepping the bounds of their authority as Commanders-in-Chief of the military since early in the Republic—from getting the U.S. involved in completely unprovoked wars to using covert action to overthrow foreign governments—and Congress has become increasingly numb to this overreach. But this year, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) have introduced a serious proposal to take the next step and voluntarily give the rest of Congress’ discretionary power over war away.
The Corker-Kaine resolution would replace the current Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) with a new one. To our list of foes it would add five new major Islamic terror organizations operating in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and much of northern Africa. The president could add to this list any “associated forces” (a phrase which is never defined) to the above, and to stop him Congress would first need to pass a resolution that could be vetoed and then muster the supermajority vote to override that veto.
As Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and a handful of conscientious colleagues have been sounding the alarm, it’s not an exaggeration to call Corker-Kaine a blank check for endless war.
The framers of the constitution hoped that people in each branch of government, in their individual human tendencies to aggrandize themselves, would jealously guard the powers they were given. And while politicians do love power, unfortunately most of them are less fond of responsibility. Many of those who value the station to which they have been elected quickly become timid creatures, fearful of taking any action or making any statement that might get them voted out of office.
This fearfulness is something that the defense establishment—and the bi-partisan core of war hawks in Congress—have become very expert at exploiting. Those who don’t jump to support more military spending, or who are hesitant to deploy our troops to new countries to fight every new emerging terrorist threat, or who complain about how war is used to justify violations of civil liberties here at home, are reminded by Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton that they’ll be the ones to blame when the next 9/11 happens.
But politicians don’t want to be held responsible for the flag-draped caskets that still continue to trickle home either. Corker-Kaine allows these fearful lawmakers to simultaneously show strength against terrorists by letting the president expand the Global War on Terror wherever he pleases, while washing their hands of any responsibility for those expansions. It’s a very clever brand of cowardice.
Here is where plenty of the blame fall on us, too, the voting population. Activist voters making themselves seen in sufficient numbers have the power to instill that fear of being unelected into their elected officials too. On the matter of war, however, a deep-seated complacency appears to have set in. If you aren’t serving in the military or don’t have family who does, it probably just doesn’t seem like the war affects you all that much. The strain that a generation of constant combat deployments has taken on the minds and bodies of our brave volunteers in uniform is, to much of the population, largely invisible.
It’s difficult to grasp the astonishing $700 billion that will be taken from our pockets to pay the war effort this year, in addition to the resources devoted to taking care of the ever-increasing number of disabled and traumatized veterans created by a generation of war. It’s hard to put a finger on the slow creep of militarism into our law enforcement, or on the dangers of an omnipresent surveillance state.
Those who care about limiting the size and scope of government need to come to grips with the reality that endless war truly is the health of the state.
Without major resistance from the American citizenry, Congress will, at best, simply continue gazing dumbly, slack-jawed, as the war machine runs free. At worst, they will put an exclamation point on their cowardice by passing something like Corker-Kaine and wash their hands of any decision-making on where we go to war for all time. We must not let them.
You can take action against the Corker-Kaine AUMF resolution by contacting your senators and demanding that they oppose S. J. Res. 59.