Trump makes it clear he will continue endless war
In this July 25, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump reviews the troops during a ceremony for Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at the Pentagon in Washington. This was the same afternoon of his phone call with Ukraine’s new leader, pressing him for a political favor, which eventually led to his impeachment. | Alex Brandon / AP

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. So said George Orwell of the endless conflict that Oceania maintained with its supposed adversaries in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. With Iran’s quick and casualty-free face-saving retaliatory strikes concluded and President Trump signaling no further U.S. attacks, it looks as though the latest episode in our continuous war may be wrapping up—at least for the time being. An imperial president has once more unilaterally used military force abroad without seeking or getting approval. And Congress is left complaining that it should have been asked first.

The danger, of course, is never passed; it’s not intended to be.

With Trump’s surprise drone strike killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq last week, the debate over the president’s ability to conduct endless war is being had once again. Article I of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power to make war, yet there’s been no congressional declaration of war since World War II, though there have been plenty of U.S. military expeditions in the meantime.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed a vote this week on a “War Powers Resolution” requiring Trump to end his hostilities toward Iran within a month unless Congress gives him further permission. The conclusion of the immediate overt campaign against Iran renders the resolution, unfortunately, largely irrelevant. And the guaranteed refusal of the Republican-dominated Senate to take up a similar measure proposed by Sen. Tim Kaine in that chamber means that, when it comes to international affairs, Trump is right when he says he can “do anything I want as president.”

A screen showing President Donald Trump and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tokyo, on Jan. 8, 2020. | Koji Sasahara / AP

It shouldn’t be that way. It’s time for Congress to take back its power to make—and end—war.

The endless war

For the United States, our current endless war started in 2001 with the inauguration of the so-called “War on Terror,” launched in the aftermath of 9/11. Following the attacks in New York and Washington, and then again a year later when it came to Iraq, Congress handed away its constitutional authority over war to President George W. Bush when it passed two “Authorizations for Use of Military Force.”

Those surrenders of power are still the legal basis being used by the Trump administration today to justify its assassination of Soleimani and to threaten more war against Iran. If we are to believe Vice President Mike Pence, Iran and its general are now to be retroactively written into the 9/11 conspiracy story.

Rep. Barbara Lee was the only voice in Congress to speak up against that 2001 AUMF at the time, saying later it gave the president “the authority to wage war in perpetuity.” After nearly two decades of bombings, invasions, and drone strikes under three different presidents, she’s been proven correct. Dozens of campaigns have been launched under the auspices of the AUMF in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya, Georgia, the Philippines, and more. Hundreds of thousands have been killed while billions in war profits have been accumulated by defense manufacturers.

Though much attention is focused on those 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, the scourge of unchecked executive military power stretches back much further. As the U.S.’ disastrous campaign against Vietnam was coming to an end in 1973, a Democratic-controlled Congress tried to rein in an aggressive Richard Nixon with a War Powers Act that was passed over his veto. At the time, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote, “Prolonged engagement in undeclared, Presidential war has created a most dangerous imbalance in our Constitutional system of checks and balances.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee this past Sunday reminded Trump of that 1973 law and encouraged him to read it, saying “you’re not a dictator.” But by ignoring Congress completely in launching this latest aggression against Iran, he continues to act like one. He has good reason to think there are no consequences to him doing so. The Supreme Court sided with Nixon years after the War Powers Act was passed and said Congress can’t end a war over a presidential veto unless it has a two-thirds supermajority.

Pelosi and Kaine’s War Powers Resolutions mirror that effort of half-a-century ago to stop Nixon and the Vietnam War, but without a change in Congress, they have little hope of restraining Trump.

To end war, change Congress

Too many in Congress have resigned themselves to the imperial presidency and unchecked executive power when it comes to military matters. The worst among them—typically but not exclusively found in Republican ranks—cheer on the dictatorial exercise of powers by the commander in chief.

Andrew Harnik / AP

Those who disagree make the rounds of the TV talk shows criticizing the president’s recklessness or nitpick this or that aspect of strategy. What we don’t need, though, is 535 more pundits on MSNBC, CNN, or Fox to talk about the president and his wars. What we need is a progressive Congress armed with a Democratic supermajority to take back its authority and put restrictions on the ability of any future president to wage endless war.

That means that while it’s necessary to remove Trump from office in 2020, every House and Senate race is also absolutely crucial to blocking war and stopping the assaults on the U.S. Constitution. The same goes for any part of a pro-people, pro-working class agenda. Whether it’s preventing war or winning priorities at home like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, a progressive Congress is going to be needed to win anything.

The Soleimani assassination, the victory lap speech by Trump, and the threat of future possible aggression in the Middle East are all undertaken in the context of the 2020 election—and of course the president’s pending impeachment trial. The GOP’s rally ’round the flag warmongering is a calculated effort to drive up Republican support as the country heads into election season.

Be assured that Trump and the GOP have got the 2020 election on their mind. So must we.

Change Congress. Stop the war.


CONTRIBUTOR

C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

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