Addiction and Abdication

By Daniel L. Davis

The past two administrations have become addicted to the use of military power, and the U.S. Congress has abdicated its constitutional obligation to serve as a check on the Executive branch. The last time the Congress undertook meaningful debate on the deployment of troops was in 2007 when President Bush sought to surge 20,000 troops to Iraq. Since that time, there has been only minor debate on security issues and virtually no discussion regarding deployments of U.S. troops. Even debate on the 2009 surge of 30,000 troops to Afghanistan was limited to hearings in a few committees.

Following the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, the current Administration began deploying troops back into Iraq. These were deployed in small increments to avoid drawing too much public or congressional attention, but over time the number ballooned to more than 5,000. Later, troops were also sent to Syria to aid rebels, and in 2015 to Libya for the same purpose. But in just the last few months, the Obama Administration has deployed hundreds of additional U.S. troops to several places around the globe – and Congress has not debated the merits of a single one of them. 

These deployments are not happening behind closed doors, and the media has kept Congress and the public informed of these movements. In just the past six months, the President has ordered:

  • An additional 560 troops to assist the fight for Mosul (July 2016)
  • Elements of the 3d Infantry Division deployed to Africa, raising the number of conventional troops to approximately 2,000 (October 2016)
  • Increases of an unknown number of special operations troops to fight a secret “shadow war” in Somalia (October 2016) 
  • 200 more troops to Syria to fight against ISIS (December 2016)
  • A surge of special operations troops to various spots in Africa, representing a ballooning 17 percent of all deployed special operations forces (December 2016)
  • 300 U.S. Marines sent back in to Afghan’s Helmand Province to battle Taliban forces (January 2017)
  • 2,800 pieces of military equipment arrived in northern Germany to supply 4,000 US troops conducting “large massing” NATO exercises in states bordering Russia; there are approximately 70,000 US military personnel in Europe (January 2017)

I have engaged in direct battle during four combat deployments as an Army officer, and I have seen the results of many of these deployments first-hand. I can authoritatively confirm these missions provide no strategic benefit to the United States.

American military personnel can successfully accomplish every tactical objective given, and still, the U.S. will fail strategically. The record of strategic outcomes speaks for itself: After military intervention in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and thus far everywhere in Africa the military instrument has been employed, objectives were achieved, yet the security situation in each has worsened, sometimes profoundly so.

While the Administration has become addicted to the use of military power, Congress has abdicated its responsibility and obligation to authorize it.

Each American soldier deployed overseas willingly obeys the orders given to them, regardless of whether it places their lives in danger. It is not asking too much for Congress to debate the merits of missions sending U.S. citizens into harm’s way, regardless of the electoral risk.

How can it be that we expect service members to have the moral and physical courage to risk and sometimes lose their lives in the conduct of military missions ordered by the President and funded by the Congress – but continue to allow the President to issue such orders without accountability and Congress to remain silent and off the record?

There is now seemingly no mission the Administration can send the US military on that will be questioned by Congress. The President has a blank check to use the military as he sees fit.

In his valedictory address, President George Washington warned, “The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position… (Though in a given situation such abuse) may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.” 

Congress would do well to heed Washington’s advice and once again assert its role as a check on the Executive branch. While the Administration has become addicted to the use of military power, Congress has abdicated its responsibility and obligation to authorize it or to hold the usurping president accountable.

Daniel L. Davis is a fellow and military expert at Defense Priorities. He served multiple tours in Afghanistan as a Lt. Col. for the U.S. Army.

This piece was originally published by Real Clear Defense on January 13, 2017. Read more HERE.