Restoring a high threshold for war

In trying to end the US role in Yemen’s war, Congress may finally be returning authority for war – and the protection of liberty – to itself.

AP
Houthi Shiite rebels inspect the rubble of the Republican Palace that was destroyed by Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen.

On Wednesday, the House voted to stop American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In coming weeks, the Senate is expected to follow suit. The measure, however, lacks enough votes to overcome a threatened veto by President Trump. The tragic war in Yemen, with its unacceptable toll on civilians, probably will go on. And that might be the end of yet another political drama in Washington with no real-world impact.

But wait, something historic may be happening anyway. Not since Congress passed the War Powers Act in 1973 has it voted with a majority to cease United States involvement in a conflict. After decades of allowing presidents to decide when to initiate force and when to end it, the legislative branch could be indicating that it is gaining the courage to fully restore its sole authority under the Constitution to declare war.

That authority has been steadily given away to succeeding presidents over dozens of conflicts, large and small. The last time Congress officially declared a war was for World War II. The Founders “would probably be thunderstruck” at how much war power has been given to the executive branch, writes historian Michael Beschloss in a new book, “Presidents of War.”   

Article I of the Constitution, which grants war-initiation power to Congress, was designed to help Americans decide, through their representatives, when a war is “just.” Equally important, it was meant to prevent a single person, the chief executive, from using war as an excuse for other purposes, such as oppressing domestic opponents or to seek glory or a diversion before an election.

Except in the case of imminent attack on US soil, the Founders decided war is too important to be left to generals or the civilian commander in chief. Liberty is best protected by broadening the authority to use force.

The timing may now be ripe for Congress to no longer duck its duty to decide the course of war.

The conflict in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of civilians and left millions more on the brink of famine. At root, the war is a regional contest between Iran and Saudi Arabia and their different branches of Islam. Over the past year Congress has turned on longtime ally Saudi Arabia for its abuses of human rights and low regard for civilian casualties. Lawmakers are also wary of Mr. Trump’s unilateral moves toward the US role in Syria and Afghanistan.

Despite this distrust of the president and Saudi Arabia, lawmakers still lack a strong consensus to override a veto of the measure. They differ on issues such as Iran’s ability to win the war and how much to curtail US ability to fight terrorists in the region.

The whole point of Article I was to keep a high threshold on the decision to enter a war. Now Congress is trying to end the US role in a war it never directly authorized. To protect liberty and to allow the US to make wiser choices in conflicts, lawmakers should find the clarity, consensus, and discipline to assert its responsibility on issues of war – and peace.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Restoring a high threshold for war
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2019/0214/Restoring-a-high-threshold-for-war
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe