If it seems like only months ago that America’s warmongers were claiming there would be no need for US boots on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), that’s because it was. When the politicians initially decided to promote IS to the position of threat du jour, they promised that threat could be eliminated without sacrifice of American lives. Defeating IS would require only indirect measures, such as "support" for "our partners" in the region like "Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian opposition." US vice-president Joe Biden laid this line down in an August 22 op-ed in the Washington Post.
My, how times have changed! With president Obama’s new Authorization for Use of Military Force seemingly only a congressional rubber stamp away, the new talk is that US boots on the ground are likely. And the proposed AUMF seems to confirm this. Commentators on NPR, MSNBC and Fox News agree that American combat troops are almost certain in the fight against IS. It’s as if a directive went out to the media to prep the public for the maneuver.
In light of this tactical change of course I offer a modest proposal. I think it should be mandatory for all US Congressmen and women to serve rotating tours of duty in American wars. I mean this without the slightest bit of hyperbole. There would be no better way for those whose constitutional obligation it is to make war to see firsthand the daily progress of what they’ve allowed. For those in Congress who may be physically unable to handle the rigors of combat, surely we can find them a non-combat position within the theater of war, so that they’re still privy to the daily goings on. Sending those in Congress directly into the line of fire would eliminate their need to rely on secondhand sources for updates on the wars’ progress. They would be working directly with military personnel to implement and carry out the strategy and to assess its ongoing effectiveness.
Congress would also be confronted with the horrors of war that they’re conveniently insulated from at present. For those in Congress who do keep track of American casualties, perhaps seeing charred bodies, blown off limbs and severe brain trauma might make DoD spreadsheets and newspaper reports more realistic. Seeing Iraqi casualties firsthand might also make Congress more sympathetic to the chaos that war creates for local populations. Instead of Joe Biden’s grandiose talk of a federalist government in a country he has no direct experience in, perhaps he and Congress might pay more attention to what it’s like to live in conditions where mass executions, use of human shields, roadside bombs, and the cutting off of hands are the norm.
For US foreign policymakers, war is not unlike a video game. Press a few buttons here, issue a few directives there, and presto, events take a different turn. At night, they still sleep safely in their own beds, risking nothing more than their own political power.
Maybe mandatory Congressional military service wouldn’t do anything to change their perspective. Maybe they’re so permanently deranged that experiencing the terror of war wouldn’t cause them to waver a bit. I don’t think so, though. I think politicians are self-interested human beings like the rest of us, and that forcing them to immediately confront what they’ve done to the world would make for a lot fewer wars. Or a lot fewer politicians.
Chad Nelson is an assistant editor for Antiwar.com. Follow him on Twitter.