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After 18 years of conflict, Congress needs to rein in the forever wars
Over the past several years, the organizations we lead – Concerned Veterans for America and VoteVets – have vigorously disagreed on major public policy issues, including the future of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We have also worked on the opposite side of many political fights across multiple election cycles.
But we both served our countries in uniform – including in Iraq – and we both believe that one important way to alleviate the strain at the VA is to pursue a more restrained foreign policy, which will create fewer injured veterans.
To achieve this vision, we are joining forces to urge Congress to reassert its role in authorizing the use of military force, ensuring our country fights only the wars that are necessary to keep us safe — and to stop giving the executive branch free rein to entangle America in new conflicts.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to eliminate the threat posed by Al Qaeda and to punish the Taliban in Afghanistan – an action which was clearly justified at the time.
However, that law, barely more than a printed page long, has for nearly two decades been put to many uses for which it was never intended.
Through 18 years of conflict, congresses led by members of both parties have abdicated their war powers to three administrations led by members of both parties, while failing to challenge the concentration of authority in the executive branch. In fact, nearly 90% of the current Congress never voted on the 2001 AUMF.
The result is a "war on terror" that has stretched far beyond Afghanistan. According to Brown University's Costs of War Project, the United States has had combat troops on the ground in 14 countries in just the past two years. Some, like Syria, most people know about. Others, like the Central African Republic, have barely registered with the American public.
These conflicts are increasingly removed from immediate national security concerns. But they nevertheless impose serious costs in terms of American lives and treasure. Thousands of troops have died, trillions of dollars have been spent already, and the costs will continue to grow as we care for the veterans of these conflicts. Half of U.S. veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq War have applied for long-term disability through the VA, which is likely to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the federal budget over the coming decades.
Since 2001, the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations have engaged the United States in a series of military missions without congressional approval and have used an overly broad interpretation of the 2001 AUMF to justify them. For example, both the Obama and Trump administrations have used the legislation to justify military action in Africa against groups that did not exist in 2001.
There can be no real expectation that any presidential administration will have the incentive to pause to reflect on the damage done to U.S. national security or our constitutional system by this kind of abuse.
The solution lies with Congress, which for too long has persisted in what author Stephen R. Weissman has called "a culture of deference" on foreign policy.
It is past time for Congress to end the deference.
The recent resolutions that passed Congress mandating an end to American military support for the war in Yemen offer a hopeful sign and a roadmap for how Congress can become more assertive in shaping American foreign policy.
Lawmakers should also repeal the outdated 2001 AUMF, which has allowed multiple presidents to operate under the assumption that Congress has ceded all war-making authority to them. Different bipartisan bills, like those recently introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), offer potential vehicles for repealing the 2001 law.
More fundamentally, lawmakers need to reclaim the legislative branch's power of the purse, its most effective tool – and one it has wielded effectively in the past to restrain military action.
Like many Americans, we certainly expect to continue to butt heads on other issues. But we just as certainly expect to work together to achieve the common goal of persuading Congress to reassert its role as a co-equal branch of government when it comes to authorizing the use of military force.
Dan Caldwell is executive director of Concerned Veterans for America. Jon Soltz is the chairman of VoteVets.
WATCH: Operation Enduring Freedom turns 17
An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.
She's photographed every major war of the last 20 years. Marine Corps boot camp was something else entirely
Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.
Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.
The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.
Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.
Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead
"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.
They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.
As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.
But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.
Federal court judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. has ruled Hoda Muthana, a young woman who left her family in Hoover, Alabama, to join ISIS, is not a U.S. citizen, her attorneys told AL.com Thursday.
The ruling means the government does not recognize her a citizen of the United States, even though she was born in the U.S.
MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.
"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."
Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.
"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."