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Opinion | When Presidents Go to War

Opinion | When Presidents Go to War

While we appreciate this bipartisan effort, the measure may actually give presidents more power to decide when, where and against whom Americans can fight, by approving existing military operations that began without congressional approval, and by allowing presidents to expand that scope of action with only a minimal role by Congress. That’s a concern no matter who occupies the White House but especially when the president is as impulsive as Mr. Trump.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee needs to hold hearings to examine publicly how the measure can be modified to ensure there is a more effective congressional check on the president’s ability to begin military operations so that the war on terrorists isn’t used as cover to fight any enemy, anywhere.

During the Vietnam War, Congress tried to reclaim some of its clout by passing the 1973 War Powers Act, which mandated that if a president sent troops into “hostilities,” they could stay only 60 to 90 days unless Congress approved the deployment or extended the time period. In recent years, executive branch lawyers have concluded that presidents may act unilaterally if they decide that a strike would be in the national interest and that it would fall short of an all-out war involving ground troops. Congress, reluctant to be held accountable for putting troops in danger, and wary of challenging presidents, largely acquiesced.

That is until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when Congress passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force to cover American-led operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 2002 it passed a second authorization, to cover the war in Iraq. Although 17 years have passed since the attacks on the United States, President Barack Obama and Mr. Trump, defying credibility, kept using the same authorizations to justify operations against the Islamic State and other groups that didn’t even exist in 2001 and to legitimize operations in many other countries, including Yemen, the Philippines, Kenya, Eritrea and Niger.

Under the Kaine-Corker proposal, these 2001 and 2002 authorizations would be replaced with one that approves the use of force not just against Al Qaeda and the Taliban but also against six groups not in the 2001 authorization: the Islamic State, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the East African group Al Shabab, Al Qaeda in Syria, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Haqqani Network, which operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It would also increase the countries where force is authorized to include Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

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