A time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America

January 14, 2020

After an astonishing airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Maj. General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s destabilizing force is on notice. While the strike sent shocks around the world, those who pay attention to volatile Middle East politics know it was a long time coming.

Over the summer of 2019, Iran rattled its saber, first attacking oil tankers, then seizing a British tanker, disrupting oil production by attacking Saudi Arabiadowning a U.S. surveillance drone, and escalating Shia militia attacks in Iraq… all testing American resolve to avoid more military conflicts in the region. Just after Christmas, an Iranian-backed militia fired rockets at a military base, killing an American contractor and wounding American and Iraqi personnel. Then, Kataib Hezbollah—an Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group—laid siege to the American Embassy in Baghdad.

Especially following Benghazi, attacks on American embassies warrant responses. The American response held the right person accountable. Upon receiving intelligence that Soleimani planned imminent attacks on Americans, President Trump opted to authorize the airstrike that killed him while he was in Baghdad. General Soleimani, Iran’s late second-in-command and leader of the secretive Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, authorized the violence on the Bagdad Embassy and was responsible for the deaths of over 600 Americans. President Trump has made clear that his intent is to prevent a war rather than to start one.

For her part, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hastily rebuked the President and orchestrated a vote to limit the president’s war powers at precisely the wrong time—just days after Tehran fired missiles at bases housing Americans and shot down a civilian passenger jet killing 176 people. Instead of taking a courageous step to define what, if any, objective America should add, eliminate, or change in the Middle East, the Democrats’ resolution preserved overly broad language from previous authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs).

Rather than establish an updated authorization making clear what the president could and should do as commander in chief to defend America against terrorism by attacking terrorists and transnational organizations that support them, Democrats restated what is already known: no president can go to war without authorization from Congress.

In the midst of conflict, Congress should be empowering action, not hindering efforts to leverage our great strength to preserve peace, prosperity, and security for the American people. As a former Army Ranger, I have long questioned the logic of America’s approach in the Middle East. I have praised the president for withdrawing troops from Syria in order to avoid broader conflict, and I have advocated against American military action in Yemen.

I fully support Congress reasserting its Article 1 power to authorize military force, but any such effort must enhance and not diminish America’s national security. Unfortunately, Congress lacks credibility on the issue. The 2001 AUMF is horribly outdated, inadequate for today’s War on Terror, and stretched to the point of absurdity. It’s been used to support ongoing missions from Afghanistan, to Yemen, to ISIS, to Africa and against enemies, organizations, and nations with little or no connection to 9/11.

Separately, the 2002 AUMF in Iraq cited the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the existence of weapons of mass destruction. When it became clear such concerns were overstated in 2005, Congress should have revisited the debate. Unfortunately, for more than a decade, Congress has failed to do its duty regarding these authorizations.

America’s president, as commander in chief, has the moral obligation to defend America, our people, and our homeland. Congress has the legal and constitutional obligation to set priorities that make sure that when our forces are committed to battle, that our nation goes to war, not just our military. Failure to align these priorities leads to civil-military disunion, and—as we are seeing—endless wars and massive deficits.

There is a time for war, and a time for peace. But, it is always right and just to defend America against aggression by others. The time has come for Congress to dutifully engage in a debate to align America’s legal authorizations and framework with our strategic objectives. What is America’s share of the task? How can we continue to ask another generation to fight and finance endless wars? Congress and the president need to work together to serve America’s citizens by establishing clear priorities, authorizing them, and holding leaders accountable for executing them. The challenge of threading that needle partially explains why the broken status quo endures.

This opinion piece appeared in The Hill