Veterans Have An Obligation To Hold Congress Accountable In An Era Of Perpetual War

Opinion
Members of 5th Special Forces Group (A) conducting 50. Cal Weapons training during counter ISIS operations at Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.
U.S. Army photo

For two administrations now, one Democratic and one Republican, America has witnessed a slow-motion ceding of constitutionally allocated war powers from Congress to the president during a time of conflict. Despite much hemming and hawing, countless hearings, and even a few floor votes on repealing the outdated post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the legislative branch has demonstrated a collective, bipartisan determination that a de facto loss of constitutionally prescribed powers to another branch is preferable to taking a tough political vote. Previously, I have discussed the morally repulsive nature of this determination by America’s elected representatives. What has been largely overlooked is the lesser degree of shared culpability that veterans bear for a tacit acceptance of this status quo.


RELATED: Congress Needs To Take Back Responsibility For Sending Troops To Conflict Zones

Many Americans seem to misunderstand the necessity of Congress’s role in providing oversight and direction to the military independent of the executive branch. It almost seems as if both the public and Congress assume military leadership would view congressional action in this regard as an unwelcome interference in military operations. Secretary of Defense James Mattis directly contradicted this notion when discussing an AUMF earlier this year before a Senate committee, stating, “I would take no issue with the Congress stepping forward… I think it'd be a statement of the American people's resolve if you did so. I thought the same thing for the last several years, I might add, and have not understood why the Congress hasn't come forward with this, at least the debate.”

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, left, the commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, provides assistant gunner support to a member of the 5th Special Forces Group during counter ISIS operations in southern Syria Nov. 22, 2017.U.S. Army photo

Mattis and as well as people like past Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey’s  comments are far from the only examples of military political leaders voicing a yearning for competent legislative oversight on military affairs. Indeed, this tradition goes all the way back to the Founders. At the time of the framing of the Constitution in 1787, close to half of the signatories were veterans of the Revolutionary War. It was that particular group of veterans who were among those who included Article I in the Constitution, which reserves for Congress the right to declare war. It is not a stretch, therefore, to assume that our country’s founding veteran generation had as one of its prerogatives establishing Congress’s central role in national security priorities while consciously keeping unilateral war-making authority out of the hands of the executive branch. This tradition continued even into the Vietnam era. Nearly three-fourths of lawmakers who served in the 92nd Congress from 1971-1972 had military experience. Less than a year later in November of 1973, the War Powers Resolution was passed overwhelmingly over President Richard Nixon’s veto, representing the most profound legislative limitation of executive war powers since constitutional ratification.

What then accounts for the morass in which we find ourselves in 2017, with a war in Iraq and Syria passing the three-year mark absent congressional authorization in the form of a specific AUMF? Why has a military response seemingly become the preferred solution to every foreign-policy problem the nation encounters in both Democratic and Republican administrations? One answer may lie in the dearth of veteran representation in Congress. As of the beginning of the 115th Congress earlier this year, only 18.8% of the composition was veterans.

Another problem may lie in the yawning civilian-military divide in which the public appears comfortable almost totally detaching itself from decisions on war and peace that will have little personal effect. With no draft, less than 0.5% of the population in uniform, and taxes largely cut over the post-9/11 period with the cost of ongoing wars being put largely on the nation’s credit card, almost no tangible pain as a result of military action exists for the average voter. In both problems, readily apparent solutions do not present themselves. Raising the percentage of veterans in Congress will take time, and with the military at historically low numerical levels, there is much less of a veteran pool to draw from. Implementing a draft would be impractical in today’s highly trained volunteer military, and while tax raises to pay for increased military spending may make fiscal sense, they would likely be too indirect for the public to strongly equate with military interventions and therefore draw little response.

5th Special Forces Group (A) Operation Detachment Bravo 5310 arrives to meet Major General James Jarrard at the Landing Zone at base camp Al Tanf Garrison in southern Syria.U.S. Army photo

The solution lies in veteran action. Traditionally, large veteran organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars among others have advocated on Capitol Hill both on issues specific to veterans and those representing the interests of their brethren still serving in uniform. Historically these organizations have provided a voice for the voiceless on active duty due to the nation’s strict rejection of military personnel intervention on matters of policy. Veteran organizations are well-placed to do so as veterans enjoy much of the cross-over social esteem that the military as an institution enjoys. In a recent 2017 Gallup poll, 72% of respondents registered having either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in the military, a number that stands in stark contrast to Congress’s anemic 12%. It was with great disappointment, therefore, that upon exiting active duty six months ago and examining the legislative priorities of the largest veteran organizations, I found not one mention efforts to encourage Congress to discharge its constitutional obligations toward the public and military through debate and vote on a new AUMF.

Among individual veterans, too, there has been a dereliction of duty. At a recent town hall event, upon asking my district’s congressman how many veterans had called him demanding he take a stand and call for an AUMF vote, he responded that I was the first. This must change. In a country enamored with military conflict that is simultaneously largely detached from its troops, veterans must bridge the gap. They must return to their traditional role of encouraging restraint in military interventions through educating legislators and holding them accountable to providing a check to the executive on matters of war, regardless of what party occupies the White House.

Nathan Smith is a former Army artillery and intelligence officer and veteran of Afghanistan and the counter-ISIS war. He is on Twitter @nate_smith101.

A Marine wanted for killing his mother's boyfriend reportedly escaped police by hiding inside an RV they'd spent hours searching before towing it to a parking lot, where he escaped under the cover of darkness.

It wasn't until more than two weeks later authorities finally caught up to Michael Brown at his mom's home, which was the scene of the crime.

Brown stuffed himself into a tight spot in his camper during an hours-long search of the vehicle on Nov. 10, according to NBC affiliate WSLS in Virginia. A day earlier, cops said Brown fatally shot his mother's boyfriend, Rodney Brown. The AWOL Marine remained on the lam until Nov. 27, where he was finally apprehended without incident.

Read More Show Less

No motive is yet known for last week's Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard shooting tragedy, which appears to have been a random act of violence in which the sailor who fatally shot two civilian workers and himself did not know them and did not plan his actions ahead of time, shipyard commander Capt. Greg Burton said in an "All Hands" message sent out Friday.

Machinist's Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Antonio Romero of San Antonio, an armed watch-stander on the attack submarine USS Columbia, shot three civilian workers Dec. 4 and then turned a gun on himself while the sub rested in dry dock 2 for a major overhaul, the Navy said.

"The investigation continues, but there is currently no known motive and no information to indicate the sailor knew any of the victims," Burton said.

Read More Show Less
A projectile is fired during North Korea's missile tests in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 28, 2019. (KCNA via Reuters)

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site, the latest in a string of developments aimed at "restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.", state news agency KCNA reported on Saturday.

The test was conducted on Friday at the Sohae satellite launch site, KCNA said, citing a spokesman for North Korea's Academy of Defence Science, without specifying what sort of testing occurred.

Read More Show Less

Since the Washington Post first published the "Afghanistan papers," I have been reminded of a scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux" in which Army Col. Walter Kurtz reads to the soldier assigned to kill him two Time magazine articles showing how the American people had been lied to about Vietnam by both the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.

In one of the articles, a British counterinsurgency expert tells Nixon that "things felt much better and smelled much better" during his visit to Vietnam.

"How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks.

Read More Show Less
Erik Prince arrives for the New York Young Republican Club Gala at The Yale Club of New York City in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., November 7, 2019. (REUTERS/Jeenah Moon)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Erik Prince, the controversial private security executive and prominent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, made a secret visit to Venezuela last month and met Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, one of socialist leader Nicolas Maduro's closest and most outspoken allies, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

Read More Show Less