By Daniel DePetris
Americans could use much better representation of their foreign policy beliefs in Washington, D.C. The views of the majority of the country and the foreign policy elite could not be more different. Sometimes, they are completely contradictory.
Fortunately, the inauguration this week of the bipartisan War Powers Caucus in the House of Representatives, a joint effort led by Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif., is a welcome step which could potentially bridge some of the chasm.
The disparity between what the people want the country’s foreign policy to look like and what the Washington establishment has advocated for is stark. Only 9% of foreign policy experts randomly sampled by Foreign Affairs magazine supported the concept of what the Eurasia Group Foundation referred to as an “independent America” worldview: an America that devotes more of its energy on building strength and prosperity at home rather than spreading democracy abroad and engaging in excessive interventionism.
At their core, the public is generally pro-common sense, pro-diplomacy, and justifiably hesitant to use U.S. military force if other policy options are available. They also expect their elected representatives in Congress to debate the questions of war and peace on their behalf just as the Constitution demands, regardless of how difficult those questions are or how politically toxic they may be to a lawmaker’s own career.
While a small group with only four members, the War Powers Caucus' vital mission couldn’t come at a more relevant time. The caucus has tasked itself with “reclaiming” the legislative branch’s Article I powers on war and peace, “evaluating the costs and benefits of military intervention,” and winding down U.S. involvement in generation-long conflicts that have been endless, expensive, counterproductive, and detrimental to the security and prosperity of the United States.
In other words, members of the caucus are hoping to pierce “the blob” that has dominated the nation’s capital for decades and force a major rethinking and realignment in how the U.S. should interact with the world; defend the homeland; and protect its vital national interests. It’s a realignment long overdue after multiple wars that have exhausted America’s service members, contributed to ever-closer fiscal insolvency, and bogged the country down with peripheral missions that distract from more important priorities — keeping the United States competitive in the Asia-Pacific region, for starters.
Interestingly enough, the goals of the War Powers Caucus sync well with the foreign policy restraint President Trump called for on the 2016 campaign trail. With his administration stocked with some of the same people who are responsible for the country’s previous blunders, Trump could use allies on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue who provide him with support — particularly today, when national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are promoting policies on Iran that are far more likely to result in a catastrophic escalation than Tehran’s capitulation.
There are currently dozens of caucuses on Capitol Hill, some more effective than others. We'll see how successful the War Powers Caucus will be, but the fact that the grouping has attracted lawmakers on both sides of the aisle suggests the group has the potential to become a potent force in Congress. While the foreign policy elite continues to retain a firm grip on the process, those advocating for realism and pragmatism at the expense of auto-pilot interventionism are growing in number, and they have the support of their constituents.
The foreign policy conversation in Washington, static for so long, is slowly beginning to catch up with the beliefs and preferences of a majority of Americans who increasingly question whether jumping head-first into all of the world’s problems is a smart or sustainable strategy for the country. It most assuredly is not.
As important as it is reasserting the legislative branch’s constitutional authority on war (and it is indisputably important), the War Powers Caucus should not be graded on this alone. There is a tremendous amount of work to do as it relates to building a foreign policy that is prudent and prioritizes vital interests over tertiary ones. Congress getting out of the peanut gallery and onto the main stage is only one part of a long journey. It may turn out that reclaiming congressional power proves to be the easiest mile.
Nothing changes in Washington without a long, coordinated, and drawn-out fight. Change, even change that makes sense and improves U.S. strength in the long run, can quickly grind to a halt as vested interests fight to preserve their influence.
But the War Powers Caucus has an opportunity to start ushering in the evolution that our nation’s foreign policy urgently needs. We should all wish them luck.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on June 19, 2019. Read more HERE.