Trump expands power of President to declare war
What specifically makes this new plan different from the operations of administrations past is the new autonomy it gives the military from civilian control, not only in terms of congressional oversight but also in terms of presidential direction.
Trump’s dangerous expansion of executive war powers For decades, Congress has relinquished its constitutional role in declaring war. But Trump is taking it to new extremes. Politico, By BONNIE KRISTIAN 04/03/17 With Washington distracted by the health care debate, President Donald Trump has quietly overseen an expansion in the administration’s war-making powers, giving the Department of Defense greater autonomy to conduct military operations independent of the White House.
Already, the Pentagon has used this expanded authority in Yemen, where the U.S. has recently conducted significant air operations against AQAP, an Al Qaeda offshoot. And on Friday, Trump extended the authority to parts of Somalia where the U.S. is targeting Shabab, a terrorist group. In military terms, Yemen and Somalia are now “areas of active hostility,” a bureaucratic way of saying that the U.S. is conducting military operations there, with little input or oversight from either the White House or Congress.
This expanded bombing campaign, though, could be just the tip of the iceberg. In early March, The Guardian reported that the White House is considering a secret Pentagon proposal to designate temporary areas of active hostility in which the military could launch what amounts to six-month wars without congressional approval. Under the proposal, once the president signs off on a temporary battlefield, commanders would be given “the same latitude to launch strikes, raids and campaigns” as they now have in active U.S. warzones like Iraq. Protections for civilians would also be scaled back.
These temporary battlefields, as The Guardian dubbed them, are not exactly new; the Obama administration already applied the label to conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. But the proposal Trump is considering would expand and formalize that decision, stretching the temporary battlefield designation to cover entire countries in which the United States is technically not at war. Despite the bureaucratic language, Trump’s plan, if implemented, is a flagrant perversion of the Constitution, redoubling the worst excesses of the Obama administration and further undercutting the rule of law.
To understand the recklessness of this proposal, a little history is in order. Though it names the president as “Commander in Chief” of the U.S. military, the Constitution explicitly delegates the power to “declare war” to Congress. The choice of the word “declare” was a careful one, as James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention reveal. Originally written as the power to “make war,” it was amended to communicate that while the executive is permitted “the power to repel sudden attacks” on American soil, it is not allowed to “commence war” independent of the legislature.
George Mason, the “father of the Bill of Rights,” was against “giving the power of war to the Executive, because [it was not] safely to be trusted with it,” Madison records, and Mason supported using “declare” as a means of “clogging rather than facilitating war [and instead] facilitating peace.”…….
With this “temporary battlefields” idea, the White House once again strips Congress of what was left of its responsibility for our military, taking unilateral control of foreign policy for the foreseeable future.
What specifically makes this new plan different from the operations of administrations past is the new autonomy it gives the military from civilian control, not only in terms of congressional oversight but also in terms of presidential direction. In Obama’s scheme, which was already far afield from the constitutional war powers framework, the president and his top national security advisers remained intimately involved in the approval process for U.S. strikes outside of active war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. With the new plan, military commanders would be able to make these decisions independently during 180-day periods. This puts major foreign policy decisions one step further away from congressional influence and civilian control………
this proposal is regression, not reform. It demolishes the last remnants of one our Founders’ most necessary constitutional protections, and it opens the gate to a host of dangerous, imprudent military interventions with no demonstrable connection to U.S. national security interests.
After the last 15-plus years of imprudent executive war-making, what we need is not less oversight of our foreign policy, but more—more open debate about our goals and strategy, more realistic risk analysis, and more careful determination of what political outcomes we can achieve through military force.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets. http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/04/trumps-dangerous-expansion-of-executive-war-powers-000387
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