The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, but after authorizing military force against Al Qaeda in 2001 and Saddam Hussein in 2002, lawmakers have been happy to cede all decisions to the White House on whether U.S. troops live or die.
Now, after an airstrike that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, it's worth asking whether Congress will step in for oversight or sit back and watch as a new war festers in the Middle East.
It's the 17th birthday of the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which gave President George W. Bush and every president since a blank check to deploy U.S. military personnel anywhere in the world in the name of going after terrorists.
The current Authorization for Use of Military Force pre-dates my commission by 5 years, and is still the same one that remains in effect in my 12th year of service. A 17-year-old authorization being stretched to justify military action is not what I would really argue constitutes a well-defined strategy or mission for servicemembers. This will be even more true in a couple short years when force is being carried out by those not even born when the authorization was signed.
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 Despite much hemming and hawing, countless hearings, and even a few floor votes on repealing the outdated post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force, the legislative branch has demonstrated a collective, bipartisan determination that a de facto loss of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.
In a narrow vote Wednesday that showed lawmakers’ lingering unease, the Senate declined to repeal the authorization Congress gave for military action after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.