If America declared war, America would never be at war.
Well, maybe not never. But hardly ever.
This — a headline from NPR — wouldn’t be a question: “With John Bolton Fired, What’s Next For Trump’s Afghanistan Policy?”
This — a headline from NBC News — wouldn’t be an issue of debate: “U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could trigger ‘catastrophic’ civil war, ex-U.S. diplomats warn.”
Because if America were in the habit of declaring war the good old-fashioned Constitution way — the good old-fashioned Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution way, where Congress holds the power to declare war — the fact is the politics of declaring war would more frequently than not be too untenable for office-holders to take. They would keep the peace just to avoid the scrutiny.
A war declaration is a decisive action. It marks an important moment in time, and it carries with it all the necessary explanations to clarify the whos and hows and whens and wheres and, most crucially, the whys.
It forces the duly elected to be accountable for their reasons and allows the people the chance to test the logic.
It keeps the president in check and ensures the executive, via the War Powers Act, doesn’t unilaterally step into military missions the people don’t want and the legislators and senators can’t justify.
It provides the proper forum for deciding the end game — for determining exactly what must occur for U.S. troops to withdraw.
Accountability. Accountability to the people.
And if politicians from both parties, from all walks of political life, can be said to share a common trait, it’s this: They avoid accountability like the dickens.
The thing is America hasn’t formally declared war since World War II.
We’ve been in all kinds of conflicts — all sorts of long-running military occupations — all manners of U.N.-allied missions. But War with a capital W?
“Congress has declared war on 11 occasions, including its first declaration of war with Great Britain in 1812,” the U.S. Senate’s historical page reports. “Congress approved its last formal declaration of war during World War II.”
That was against Japan, followed in quick succession against Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania (then Rumania). The other U.S. declared wars include the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War and against countries during World War I.
Since, Congress has ceded its war-making authorities to the president and to the interests influencing the president, all as a way of avoiding the type of hard decisions that should indeed be part and parcel of deciding on war.
Since, millions of brave Americans have died during the course of military service.
And since, America’s sort of waffled this way, waffled that way, navigating curvy roads and twisted paths of foreign policy, siding sometimes with this interest, flip-flopping other times with that administration — but never, ever having the sort of clear-cut reasoning and clarity of mission of war days past. And we’re paying the price for this congressional dereliction of duty.
How? For one, a properly declared, congressionally funded Afghanistan War of 2001 would not still be an Afghanistan War in 2019.
It just wouldn’t be. We either would’ve won or lost — or known the difference.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.
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