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Tomgram: Danny Sjursen, Hail, (Donald) Caesar!

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

It began, of course, with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the second Afghan war of our era. In November 2002, in Yemen, the CIA conducted its first drone assassination strike outside of Afghanistan, killing six al-Qaeda suspects in a car. (More strikes would follow there years later, along with Special Operations raids of various sorts, and finally in 2015, the devastating U.S.-backed Saudi war.) In March 2003, there was the invasion of Iraq, the second Iraq war of our era. Then, in 2004, there would be the first drone strike in Pakistan. (At least another 429 were to follow.) In 2011, the U.S. and its NATO allies intervened in Libya, taking down that country's autocratic ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, and causing chaos, the rise of a branch of ISIS, the disintegration of the country into a failed state, and the spreading of Gaddafi's looted arsenals of weapons to terror groups from Africa to Syria. In 2014, after ISIS militants swept into major cities in Iraq and the American-backed Iraqi military collapsed and fled, abandoning vast stores of U.S.-supplied equipment, Iraq War 3.0 was launched with what would develop into a vast air campaign beginning that August and also extending the American wars of this era to Syria. And I haven't even included Somalia in this list, a country where, in a sense, American intervention and conflict have been intermittent since the Black Hawk Down era of the early 1990s and where U.S. air strikes have doubled and U.S. special ops missions have similarly increased in the Trump era.

And don't forget Niger, the West African country where even key American senators had no idea the U.S. was fighting until four Green Berets died in action against a local terror outfit last October. The U.S. military is now finishing the construction there of a $110 million airbase, from which armed drones will, according to the New York Times, "be used to stalk or strike extremists deep into West and North Africa." So America's conflicts in Africa are essentially guaranteed to spread as the Trump administration, which recently launched a barrage of more than 100 missiles against three Syrian targets, threatens to add one more country to its Middle Eastern list as well: Iran.

In other words, from Pakistan to Niger, across thousands of miles over the last 16-plus years, the U.S. has conducted what was initially known as the "Global War on Terror" (or GWOT), then the lower-cased "war on terror," and now a no-name set of conflicts that have been uprooting millions, turning major cities into rubble, and spreading terror outfits in its wake. And as TomDispatch regular U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen, author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge, writes today, in not a single one of these conflicts, whether against a country (as in Afghanistan and Iraq) or insurgents, or both (as in Syria), has Congress declared war. Yes, "authorizations" or "resolutions" have passed, but an actual declaration of war? No way. Think of it as the abdication of the power of the people through their elected representatives when it comes to perhaps the most devastating decision a country can make. But let Sjursen explain. Tom

War and the Imperial Presidency
Congress Offers a Bipartisan Blank Check to Donald Trump
By Danny Sjursen

It may be too late. The president of the United States is now a veritable autocrat in the realm of foreign policy. He has been since at least 1945, when the last congressionally declared war finally ended. Wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (among other places) were all waged via executive fiat or feeble, open-ended congressional authorizations for the use of military force, aka AUMFs. So it has been with increasing intensity for 73 years and so, most likely, it will remain.

Along with many others, this military officer has repeatedly decried the no-longer-new normal of congressional acquiescence to presidential power to no avail. When, in September 2017, Republican Senator Rand Paul sought to repeal (and replace within six months) the existing 2001 AUMF, which had authorized the president to use force against the perpetrators and enablers of the 9/11 attacks, he could barely muster 35 votes. Given that any president, Republican or Democrat, would veto such a curtailment of the essentially unlimited executive prerogative to make war, that's still some 32 votes short of a Senate override. In hopelessly divided Washington, that's the definition of impossibility.

Fear not, two brave "centrist" senators, Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Tim Kaine, are riding to the rescue. Their recently announced bill to repeal and replace the existing AUMF promises to right seven decades of wrong and "establish rigorous congressional oversight," "improve transparency," and ensure "regular congressional review and debate."

In reality, it would do none of those things. Though Senator Kaine gave a resounding speech in which he admitted that "for too long Congress has given presidents a blank check to wage war," his bill would not stanch that power. Were it ever to pass, it would prove to be just another blank check for the war-making acts of Donald Trump and his successors.

Though there have certainly been many critiques of their piece of legislation, most miss the larger point: the Corker-Kaine bill would put a final congressional stamp of approval on the inversion of the war-making process that, over the last three-quarters of a century, has become a de facto constitutional reality. The men who wrote the Constitution meant to make the declaration of war a supremely difficult act, since both houses of Congress needed to agree and, in case of presidential disagreement, to be able to muster a supermajority to override a veto.

The Corker-Kaine bill would institutionalize the inverse of that. It would essentially rubber stamp the president's authority, for instance, to continue the ongoing shooting wars in at least seven countries where the U.S. is currently dropping bombs or firing off other munitions. Worse yet, it provides a mechanism for the president to declare nearly any future group an "associated force" or "successor force" linked to one of America's current foes and so ensure that Washington's nearly 17-year-old set of forever wars can go on into eternity without further congressional approval.

By transferring the invocation of war powers to the executive branch, Congress would, in fact, make it even more difficult to stop a hawkish president from deploying U.S. soldiers ever more expansively. In other words, the onus for war would then be officially shifted from a president needing to make a case to a skeptical Congress to an unfettered executive sanctioned to wage expansive warfare as he and his advisers or "his" generals please.

How to Make War on Any Group, Any Time

Should the Corker-Kaine bill miraculously pass, it would not stop even one of the present ongoing U.S. conflicts in the Greater Middle East or Africa. Instead, it would belatedly put a congressional stamp of approval on a worldwide counter-terror campaign which isn't working, while politely requesting that the president ask nicely before adding new enemies to a list of "associated" or "successor" forces; that is, groups that are usually Arab and nominally Muslim and essentially have little or no connection to the 9/11 attacks that produced the 2001 AUMF.

So let's take a look at just some of the forces that would be preemptively authorized to receive new American bombs and missiles, Special Operations forces raids, or whatever else the president chose under the proposed legislation, while raising a question rarely asked: Are these groups actually threats to the homeland or worthy of such American military efforts?

Al-Qaeda (AQ) proper naturally makes the list. Then, of course, there's the Afghan Taliban, which once upon a time sheltered AQ. As nearly 17 years of effort have shown, however, they are militarily unbeatable in a war in their own homeland that is never going well for Washington. In addition, there are no significant al-Qaeda forces left in Afghanistan for the Taliban to potentially shelter. AQ long ago dispersed across the region. The age of plots drawn up in the caves of the Hindu-Kush is long over. In addition, the focus of the Taliban remains (as it always was) highly local. I fought those guys for 12 months and, let me tell you, we never found any transnational fighters or al-Qaeda vets. The vast majority of the enemies Washington mislabels as "Taliban" are poor, illiterate, unemployed farm boys interested, at best, in local power struggles and drug running. They rarely know what's happening just one valley over, let alone in Milwaukee.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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