Since the Fall of 2001 the United States military has conducted operations all across the planet, including major (unsuccessful) wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and numerous smaller wars, including our current undeclared war on the government of Syria.
As our nation’s infrastructure has degraded from world class to third world, and our national debt has spiraled to an unsustainable level, the answer of the Trump Administration is to spend massive sums preparing for several wars we seem to be courting — Syria, Iran, North Korea to name a few — while dismantling the State Department and the ideal of collective security.
Trump boasts of an “American First” policy, but in the volatile Middle East, the United States seems to doing the dirty work of Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Ask an average American what threat Hezbollah or Iran poses to their national security. People might remember the bombing of the U.S. Marines in 1982, before Hezbollah was created, and those over 50 might recall the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1981, but in the scheme of contemporary Middle Eastern politics that is ancient history. While brave American pilots and “advisors” fought ISIS, we should also thank Iran and Hezbollah — and yes, Russia and Assad too — for their sacrifices of blood and treasure in the victory over ISIS.
Instead of leaving a war that they were never invited to fight, American troop levels have been increasing in Syria as ISIS dissolves. U.S. troops recently clashed with Russia “mercenaries” and with Turkish “allies” while U.S. politicos threaten fire and fury on the Assad regime, Iran, and Hezbollah. In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was staying in Syria to “protect Israel” and to bring about the demise of the Syrian government. This is a violation of international law — and the Constitution of the United States.
America’s strength has always been a devotion to the Rule of Law. Our founding document, which has served us quite well for over two centuries, gives the penultimate power of waging war to Congress, not the President. The legal rationale for putting U.S. troops in harm’s way in Syria dates back to the initial response to the events of September 11th, 2001, when President George W. Bush asked for authorization to send troops to Afghanistan.
That same authorization, establishing the nebulous “War on Terror” (along with a vote supporting “Use of Force” against Iraq), has propelled American forces to Africa, Asia, and points across the Middle East from Yemen to our current military occupation of oil rich areas in eastern Syria.
Lack of Congressional oversight and debate has been detrimental to U.S. standing in the world and to the rule of law at home. Politicians like the cover of using military power and not having to take ownership when things go wrong. Think Hillary Clinton running for President and telling voters she hadn’t voted for war in Iraq, only the “use of force.”
If American soldiers are going to die and American treasure is going to be spent our elected leaders must publicly debate if combat troops should be sent to fight Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah. There should be a discussion of why Americans need to fight and die, how the cost of the war will be covered, and what the plan is for peace.
Americans still look fondly at the World War II experience because the enemy was clearly defined, war was declared by Congress, and the public stood behind the effort and paid the cost to an ultimate and successful conclusion.
Adhering to the Constitution of the United States shouldn’t be an afterthought. Recall the spurious evidence that led to the disaster called the Iraq War. The same people are now pushing for war in Syria, Iraq, and Hezbollah by claiming that weapons of mass destruction are being used, a claim doubted by many international observers. Our Israeli and Saudi compatriots are biting at our heels to fight this war for them, because these forces do threaten their nations, not ours.
If Americans are going to potentially start World War III in Syria the debate over this battle must begin before the war starts, in both the halls of Congress and in the living rooms of America.
Though Donald Trump claims to “know more than the generals,” he certainly has surrounded himself with lots of brass. And if peace is too important to be left to politicians, then surely it remains true that “war is too important to be left to generals.”
Write or call your members of Congress today and demand a public discussion and Congressional authorization of any hostilities against Iran, Syria, or Hezbollah.
Dr. Randal Beeman is a Professor Emeritus of History at Bakersfield College. The opinions expressed are his own.