(TFC) – The phrase “war on terror” is as ill-defined today as it was 17 years ago. It has justified all kinds of American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the general hardening of our borders and our hearts against political migrants and refugees — who, rumor has it, aren’t too busy fleeing for their lives to harbor terrorists in their midst.
In the long years since 9/11, many citizens of the world have had the suspicion that the United States’ endless appetite for world war is illegal — just in some way we couldn’t quite put our fingers on. It’s a war to protect our borders and our values, isn’t it? So long as that’s true, or seems like it could be true, we haven’t had to ask a lot of questions.
In 2003, more Americans supported going to war against Iraq. What felt like an obvious choice at the time has become, in hindsight, an embarrassing disaster and possibly a crime against humanity.
Public support for American interventionism seems to have subsided, but only selectively. Recent polls indicate widespread support for military action against Syria, but only “limited” amounts of it — which sounds a little bit like trying to burn only half your neighbors’ house down.
The same polling also claimed most voters don’t want American boots on the ground, don’t want us arming militant groups and don’t want us negotiating with President Assad. However, it also revealed we support special ops missions and the establishment of no-fly zones.
In other words, public opinion about war is a mess, just like it always has been.
Unfortunately, looking to our government for clarity — or a peaceful solution — is a lost cause. We don’t have a representative democracy, we have an oligarchy, and weapons manufacturers and defense contractors dominate it.
The recently proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) is a huge step toward unchecked War Powers for Trump’s Executive branch — and the clearest indication yet that the United States’ political establishment wants to legalize its pursuit of endless war in the world.
What’s Changing About How America Declares War?
That’s a lot to digest all at once — and a lot of doom and gloom.
It’s true that the new AUMF looks like another nail in the coffin of world peace — it’s broad both in its bipartisan Congressional support and its intentions.
For right now, the good news is “proposed” in the phrase “proposed new AUMF.”
Presidents draw up AUMFs every four years when they want to make changes to the previous one. So, what’s changed? This new draft adds specific language about the terrorist organizations being targeted, as well as the additions it’s making to the list of countries where the U.S. already has a presence. That list currently includes Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Somalia.
But the AUMF would also rewrite how war is declared in the first place. Expanding America’s military presence across the globe unchecked is pretty much business as usual by now, but this new AUMF would dangerously concentrate war-making powers in the hands of the Executive branch and turn Congress into a rubber-stamp for new escalations.
As mentioned, there is broad bipartisan support among Democrats and Republicans to make these changes. To understand why you can look again at the flow of money from defense contractors to the re-election campaigns of some of our highest-profile “public servants.”
However, there’s broad disapproval for the new AUMF, too — including from Democrat Jeff Merkley, who said: “This new AUMF has no sunset clause — meaning it can be used indefinitely by president Trump and his successors to continue expanding the scope and geography of U.S. military action. Even more concerning, this legislation allows the president to unilaterally expand the scope … [when] the clear constitutional vision was for Congress and Congress alone to have the authority to go to war.”
If there’s a stronger case to be made against the escalations and reinterpretation of the War Powers Resolution, we don’t know what it is. There’s absolutely nothing about American law or the Constitution that’s sacrosanct or can’t be changed if it needs to be — but one idea that shouldn’t go out of style any time soon is that many people, not just one man, should be responsible for declaring when war is absolutely necessary. In other words, a Congress.
America tends to look down its nose at conscientious objectors, and legal protections for federal employees who disobey their supervisors on moral grounds can be limited at best. But now, every citizen in America, along with every senator and every public servant, seems to be having his or her moral outrage tested, all at once. Nobody’s failing the test as publicly or as spectacularly as Congress.
Obama, Trump and Endless War
The War Powers Resolution was supposed to prevent things like Trump’s unilateral decision to bomb Syria from happening. A lot of people said his missile strikes were illegal — because they probably were. But conveniently, and retroactively, our meddling in Syria and our involvement in Yemen will soon become legal under this proposed AUMF.
In the future, when Trump wants to export democracy someplace else, all he has to do is essentially declare his intentions to Congress, who will rubber-stamp it for him.
This is not an encouraging development. Tim Kaine says this AUMF isn’t a blank check for war, but based on everything we know about it, it’s hard to see it as anything but a blank check for more war in the world. It’s true that even the Obama administration had to retroactively cover their tracks when it came to escalating our military presence and pursuing ISIS, but that doesn’t make the Trump administration’s version of the same shenanigans defensible. If anything, it makes responding appropriately even more urgent.
If presidents as different as Obama and Trump have to grandfather-in their terror-wars with rewritten AUMFs — and now by changing democratic precedent entirely — it’s a bad omen for anybody who thought America was the best and last chance for world peace.