Congress and Foreign Policy: Reclaiming an Appropriate Constitutional Role


U.S. Army Soldiers with the 1st Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, patrol the village of Mazraeh, Kandahar province, Afghanistan in 2010. (Yannis Behrakis / Reuters)

For too long, lawmakers have ceded their powers of war to the executive. Reform bills that gain momentum in the House and Senate would rebalance the scales.

It It has been almost two months since the 20-year mission to reshape Afghanistan collapsed within days. In the weeks that followed, several congressional committees met to hold hearings on the failures and lies that contributed to the astounding disintegration of governance before the fall of Kabul. There are many culprits to blame, including Congress itself, which for years has contented itself with accepting the military’s upbeat statements on Afghanistan while ignoring growing evidence of our mission failure. the low.

If we are to prevent further disasters of this type in the future, the 117th Congress must reaffirm its constitutional authority in matters of foreign policy, reclaiming the power to authorize, fund and ultimately terminate. to hostilities when wars are won or no longer serve Americans. interests.

With that in mind, Senators Mike Lee, Chris Murphy and Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bipartisan bill called the National Security Powers Act. In October, Representatives Jim McGovern and Peter Meijer introduced a companion bill called the National Security Reform and Accountability Act to the House.

As stated in the Washington post, these bills “would give Congress a more active role in approving arms sales, authorizing the use of military force and declaring national emergencies, in a general effort to reclaim national security power. of the executive ”. Taken together, the legislative package would revive Congress’ ability to shape U.S. foreign policy in the wake of the collapse of Afghanistan.

Congress slowly built up around this time. In recent years, lawmakers have become increasingly willing to wrestle with successive administrations when Congress is not consulted before military action is taken overseas. These battles have focused on the powers of war, the sale of weapons to authoritarian states and the repeal of obsolete authorizations to use military force (AUMF). This latest fight is gaining momentum in the wake of a House vote on a law repealing the AUMF from the 2002 Iraq war, which also enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate Relations Committee. foreigners.

But repealing obsolete AUMFs will only narrow the scope of the executive’s war powers. A broader course correction – in accordance with the constitutional conception of the founders – requires a more complete reform.

James Madison observed that “in no part of the constitution is there more wisdom than in the clause which places the question of war or peace in the legislature, and not in the executive department.” Despite this wise advice and the Framers’ decision to make Congress the executive’s teammate on foreign policy, lawmakers have consistently ceded their most solemn prerogative to the White House, to the point that the presidents of both parties have gone. felt comfortable relying on the deference of Congress. at the start of military action without legislative authorization.

After the Vietnamese-era “Imperial Presidency”, Congress sought to strengthen constitutional safeguards with the 1973 War Powers Resolution. But the constitutionality of this law was questionable and it failed to achieve its goals. Goals. Rather, the “legislative veto” he granted lawmakers was overturned by an unrelated Supreme Court ruling that upended the “war powers” of Congress. The result was that lawmakers had to summon a qualified majority to override a presidential veto on executive war issues.

The past 20 years have brought to light a new dimension of Congressional complacency: acquiescence to executive action on the basis of standing authorizations. A week after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force sanctioning military action against “nations, organizations or individuals who [the president] determines the terrorist attacks planned, authorized, committed or assisted. . . or hosted such organizations or individuals. Since then, presidents have used AUMF 2001 as a license to conduct more than 40 operations in 19 countries, many of which have no connection with the perpetrators of 9/11.

The Global Hotfix recently introduced in the House and Senate would clarify key terms, force Congress to affirmatively endorse U.S. involvement in overseas armed conflict, and systematize funding cuts consistent with the power of the stock market. of Congress. It would also establish requirements according to which future AUMFs cover clearly defined missions with specific objectives and that they be subject to regular re-authorization.

The slowly unfolding catastrophe in Afghanistan is stark proof that Congress must resume its proper constitutional role in shaping and executing US foreign policy. The House and Senate reform bills are a good first step in that direction, and we urge lawmakers to support them.

– Dan Caldwell is Senior Advisor for Concerned Veterans for America and Foreign Policy Campaign Director for Stand Together. Reid Smith is the Director of Educational Outreach for Foreign Policy at Stand Together and the Charles Koch Institute.

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