Opinion: America’s warriors are owed Congress’ careful attention
One of my best friends in our squadron deployed to Afghanistan twice in a 24-month period. He returned from a volunteer tour in Helmand province and was stateside for about a month before being notified we were next in line to support Operation Enduring Freedom. He had the option to stay home, having just returned from the war, but he didn’t blink before he said, “if my buddies are going, I’m going, too.”
The military is never hesitant to fight. Some troops are headed to NATO nations now to check Russian aggression, while some veterans and others are even volunteering to fight in Ukraine. We must expect the same readiness for war from our fellow Americans and our elected leaders. Congress has all but given up its constitutional responsibility to “provide for the common defense” and to decide when to declare war.
The military is ready and willing, but we each only have one life to give. This solemn responsibility is why every member of Congress and the president should take a careful, cleareyed look at what they ask the military to do and when they ask us to do it. For the past 20 years of war, congressional oversight was nearly nonexistent due to the broad powers of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force . This blanket authorization allowed members of Congress to become almost entirely disconnected from the warfighter in Iraq and Afghanistan. Elected leaders barely answered a constituent question, much less took take a vote about the global war on terror — for two decades.
God willing, no U.S. troops will fire a shot in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent aggression. The U.S. and other NATO countries are being careful not to enter the conflict, while also offering meaningful support to the Ukrainian resistance. Meanwhile, President Putin is being careful not to draw NATO into direct conflict because he would catastrophically lose, but he also needs the narrative of NATO aggression to bolster domestic support in Russia.
In Russia, the sanctions are taking a toll. With the ruble falling steeply, interest rates rising to 20 percent and global industry pulling out, Russia is in for economic hardship for some time to come. If Russia is able to topple President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government, they stand to inherit an insurgency from an inspired Ukrainian population and will have to play the role of occupier with a battered army. President Putin is in a tough spot, and it is not clear what will satisfy him.
With such an increasingly untenable position of Putin’s own doing, he is left with few good choices. And if he feels cornered enough to attack a NATO member nation, he’d invite war with the whole alliance, including the United States.
I do not think we are about to enter a war in Eastern Europe in the short term. I sincerely hope we do not. But volatile situations like this can lead us to confrontation quickly. Our elected and appointed leaders should be gaming out each “what if” with an eye toward keeping our option set wide and our commitment flexible, setting polling and politics aside.
However, Congress has a reputation for dysfunction, which is more justified in recent years than ever. Massive omnibus bills covering a range of legislative issues come to the floor for vote before anyone has a chance to read them. The House and Senate leadership control almost every important function of the bodies, so they do not expect individual members to read a bill because the leadership already signed off.
Even the bodies themselves continue to cede power to the executive branch. This centralizing of power and shirking of responsibility should be reversed because every piece of legislation deserves consideration by the people’s elected representatives. Congress should own each decision it makes, especially about whether to commit troops. Decisions like these are impossible to get right if decision makers do not have stock in the game.
President John F. Kennedy announced in 1961 Americans were ready to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” My brothers and sisters in arms are prepared to do just that. The question, however, should be answered first by Congress on behalf of the American people. Are we, as a nation, prepared to carry that water?
One of the most solemn duties of our elected leaders is to send men and women to conduct the violent end of our foreign policy. The Global War on Terror showed how poorly defined objectives can lead to getting bogged down in forever wars. To prevent such calamity, Congress should hold onto its power, own its decisions and carry the weight of our wins and losses like they are on the battlefield next to us. My buddy and I will be among the first in line when the commander-in-chief says go. Key to our success will be whether our elected leaders and the American people are right there behind us.
Pitcock, a US Marine Corps Reserve officer and member of the principled conservative organization, Principles First, is a small business owner in Texas.
Originally published at https://www.houstonchronicle.com on March 18, 2022.