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On This Veterans Day, Ask Congress To Rein In The President's War Powers

Al Willis, a Montford Point Marine, salutes during a ceremony on Veterans Day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, at the The All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Al Willis, a Montford Point Marine, salutes during a ceremony on Veterans Day, Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, at the The All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
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COMMENTARY

“Thank you for your service.” This is the platitude veterans are subjected to each November 11, repeated ad nauseam by celebrities and in public service announcements. In an arms race of token gratitude, national retailers and chain restaurants offer us discounts on oil changes and buy-one-get-one-free burritos.

While these gestures and sentiments are mostly well-intentioned, this year I propose that American citizens take a different approach in honoring current and former service members. I urge you all to write to your representatives and senators and demand that they exercise the constitutional authority of the legislative branch to insure that the commander in chief uses the armed forces judiciously.

On Tuesday, our country chose as its next president a man whom leaders from both parties have repudiated as manifestly unfit to direct U.S. foreign policy and dangerously erratic. He inherits an executive office that effectively has the power to authorize military interventions unilaterally. Thanks to years of cowardly, congressional abdication of that branch’s war powers, a decade-and-a-half of constant, desensitizing warfare, and an utter lack of public interest in, or debate of, our ceaseless military adventures, the president’s ability to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy is virtually unlimited.

Much has been made of the threat Donald Trump's presidency poses to the civil liberties of Muslims, Latinos, women, LGBT communities and other minority groups. These concerns are warranted given our president-elect’s often venomous rhetoric. To make most of these pronouncements into policy, however, President Trump would have to overcome not only their basic constitutional deficiencies, but other established laws and precedents, intense public backlash and the dozens of other checks and balances built into our deliberately inefficient system. When it comes to the use of force, those checks and balances have all but been eliminated.

When it comes to the use of force, those checks and balances have all but been eliminated.

Those that stand to lose the most, with the most immediacy, from a Trump presidency are the men and women of our armed forces. It is their blood that will be spilled in strange countries, and they who will be the first to pay the price for this man’s bellicosity, should he cast his eyes overseas in a misguided intervention or worse, some conflict aimed at distracting from domestic turmoil.

It is time for Congress to rein in the war powers of the presidency. It should start by explicitly repudiating the application of the post 9-11 Authorization For Use of Military Force to future military adventures. The Obama administration has cavalierly invoked this blank check to justify action against all manner of enemies and the legislature has gratefully hidden behind it to abrogate its war-making responsibilities.

For too long, Congress has depended on sober, rational individuals with respect for our fundamental institutions inhabiting the Oval Office to ensure that the power of the U.S. military is exercised responsibly. It is past time for the legislative branch to muscularly assert itself for the sake of our men and women in uniform. It is for them, members of this small, heavily patronized but rarely listened to constituency, that I humbly ask that you contact your legislators. I ask that you remind them of their duty to carry out their constitutional charge. I ask that you emphasize the urgency of the need to restore the norms that 15 years of war have all but eroded. If you truly want to honor those who have served, this is the most influential action you can take this Veterans Day.

I do not know how Donald Trump will conduct himself once in office — I do not believe any prognosticator does. Perhaps he will prove himself a worthy steward of American power. But a serial draft dodger who espouses his love of war strikes me as precisely the kind of individual our founders envisioned when they erected the checks and balances that demark that fine line between president and dictator.

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Visit the House of Representatives site to find your representative and his or her contact information.

The Senate’s site is here.

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Andrew Carleen Cognoscenti contributor
Andrew Carleen is a former public affairs officer in the U.S. Navy who lives in Quincy, Massachusetts.

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