Four US soldiers died in Niger on October 4, and the president’s insensitive phone call to the widow of one has brought the subject of the military in every corner of the world back in the news.
The UN has 193 members. The US has over 240,000 troops in at least 172 of them, some of which are embroiled in what The New York Times describes as "forever wars". How many people knew there was a contingent of more than 1,000 in Niger? Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader and thus the highest ranking Democrat, did not. Neither did Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican who serves on the Armed Forces Committee. Or, Senator Rand Paul who wants the post 9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) to be reviewed.
It is now 16 years since the AUMF was passed, and the US is no longer responding to an attack on the mainland nor is it in any immediate peril. So why this flagrant insult to the Constitution, which wisely reserved the power to declare war for Congress alone. Yes, we live in a different world; yes, we are confronted with non-state actors. At the same time, we also live in a world of instant communication. How difficult could it be then for Congress to respond quickly when necessary?
In September, the Senate voted 61-36 against Senator Rand Paul’s AUMF amendment calling for another look. He denounced it as a recipe for "unlimited war, anywhere, anytime, any place upon the globe," adding "I don’t think one generation should bind another generation to war." One can only commend his steadfastness in forcing a vote. "Who in their right mind thinks Congress is going to do their job without being forced to do their job?" commented Senator Paul.
In the House, Representative Barbara Lee’s (D-California) repeal amendment last July was stripped off the defense authorization bill by Speaker Paul Ryan according to her in the "dead of night" in a move she called, "underhanded and undemocratic."
Barbara Lee is uniquely courageous. In 2001, at the height of the patriotic mania gripping the country, she was a lone voice in the House who opposed AUMF that passed 420-1. Brave as well as prescient she called it in an op-ed, "a blank check … to attack anyone" that "runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women and children will be killed."
Berated and vilified in the press, including The Wall Street Journal, and called a traitor, she was deluged with angry letters and threats. She has since been proven correct … repeatedly. The rape of Libya, the ravaging of Syria … and Somalia couldn’t be left in its brief solace after years of conflict. If the latter’s Union of Islamic Courts was theocratic, then so has been Iran without any attack on the US. The result of interference has been insurgencies, and the terrorism that was supposed to be suppressed: in Somalia spreading south, and in Libya radiating outwards to include Niger, where the four soldiers lost their lives in an apparent ambush.
In 2013, Ms. Lee asked the Congressional Research Service to look into actions taken under AUMF authority. It "located 30 occurrences of a publicly disclosed presidential reliance on the AUMF," 18 under Bush, and 12 during the Obama Administration through June 2013. An appendix lists the AUMF presidential notifications from September 24, 2001 to June 14, 2013. Its use continues under Donald Trump, as we have seen in Niger and in the carpet-bombing of Raqqa for which the Russians accuse the US of wiping it "off the face of the earth" like Dresden in WW2.
After 16 years of war in Afghanistan and an Iraq war initiated through lies, is the US any safer? Before the war, the Taliban were, in a way, beholden to the US for assistance in driving out the Soviets; now they are enemies. Iraq, while not quite the friend of the 1980s, was contained. At present, it is a junior partner of Iran, the two allied with Syria, and all three wary of the US — to which number can be added a recently disaffected Turkey being romanced by Russia.
The cost of the wars runs north of $5 trillion, the dead soldiers about 7,000 plus a slightly lesser number of contractors, and the wounded at least more than 50,000. The forever wars continue exacting their drip, drip toll.
According to Jeffrey St. Clair the editor of Counterpunch, Niger is not alone for he claims 6,000 American troops have been actively engaged in 53 countries out of 54 (sic) — there are 55 sovereign states as noted by the African Union; in May, 2017, The New Yorker noted U.S. involvement in 21. Whatever the exact figure, it is too high. The American effort is intended to counter Chinese economic penetration, who avoid interfering politically, focusing on trade, traders and economic projects, remaining a friend to all. The shortcomings of a military response which becomes associated with the leadership drawing enemies, particularly in civil war or insurgency, is in stark contrast to the Chinese interacting at most levels of society.
The destruction of Libya also destroyed an economic magnet that drew temporary African labor wanting to supplement family income. Some of these now venture north to Europe. And when Raqqa’s population of 200,000 is reduced to a quarter, the displaced find shelter wherever they can, even Europe. The strains to European unity are evident. Such are the unintended consequences of an unchecked military imperium.
Arshad M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally for the print and often for online media outlets.