Congress must seize war-making authority back from the executive branch to reduce U.S. involvement in misguided wars around the world, two experts argued on Tuesday at an event hosted by the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Foreign Policy.
Although Congress has the constitutional authority to authorize war, it has now become the norm to cede war-making authorities to the executive branch with often dire consequences, argued Robert Naiman, policy director of Just Foreign Policy.
“I think we have an opportunity now for culture change and a need for a culture change [to] a world in which unconstitutional wars are back to being unconstitutionally illegal,” Naiman said at the event. Today, he said, “the violation is seen as jaywalking.”
Naiman said if there were “zero tolerance” for unconstitutional wars, “I do believe we will have less war and less of the worst wars.”
One example Naiman cited was the ongoing war in Yemen, which began in 2015 when Shiite Houthi rebels overran Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. The legitimate government, led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, fled south to Aden. A Saudi-led military coalition then intervened on behalf of Hadi, while Iran has reportedly supplied the Houthis with weapons.
The U.S. has provided members of the Saudi-led coalition with munitions, aerial refueling, intelligence, and targeting support, but has come under increasing criticism as the war has triggered a humanitarian crisis.
Last year, the number of cholera cases reported in the country hit one million, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. In April, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Yemen was the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – in need of humanitarian aid.
Last month, the coalition allegedly bombed a school bus, killing 40 children.
Naiman referenced a recent Associated Press report that said the Saudi-led coalition has struck deals with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), putting the U.S. on the same team as the terrorist group, despite the U.S. deeming AQAP the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda.
“The Saudis have actively recruited al Qaeda to their side of the war – that’s the side the U.S. is supporting. This war has strengthened al Qaeda, which the U.S. government says is the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda,” Naiman said. “There’s no case at all that it was ever authorized by Congress.”
Naiman called for a public debate of the war. If it is left up to “national security insiders” who view the government of Saudi Arabia as “our friends,” there would be more unconstitutional war, he said.
“If you want to have less war, make war harder,” he argued.
Former Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN), who served in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2007, also participated in Tuesday’s event. He recalled the lack of public debate in the rush to the Iraq War, despite no evidence that the Iraqi government played a role in the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.
“Why are we talking about Iraq, Iran, North Korea, when we know for a fact where the planners of 9/11 are?” he remembered wondering.
He recalled that members of Congress did not want to question the rationale behind the Iraq War. He said he did not believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or could set off a “mushroom cloud over Manhattan.” He was one of six GOP members to vote against the invasion of Iraq.
He also recalled that the media were beating the drums of war. “The press is no longer the press – it is the media,” he said. “They must sell ad time. They are competing all the time for ratings. ‘Nothing’ doesn’t sell ad space. War does.”
Naiman agreed that the role of the media is “hugely important.” He said whenever the use of force is proposed, the question should be whether Congress would authorize it. Instead, he said, the media reports “the administration is considering X, accepting the framework that the decision belongs to the administration.”
Naiman recalled working to get Congress to block the unconstitutional 2011 intervention in Libya. He said Democrats accused him of “working with the Republicans.”
“It was a lonely road on the Democratic side,” he said. “We need to really focus on this norm [that] they have to come to Congress and the American people and explain why this is justified and get a majority vote in Congress.”
The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy is a 501(c)(4) organization with the mission of pursuing a more restrained foreign policy that adheres to the Constitution. The organization aims to increase awareness of Congress’ Article I responsibility to oversee war. For more information on CRFP, please visit http://responsibleforeignpolicy.org.