American Warfare’s Giant Open Secret

US Freedom

All of the wars waged by the United States in the last 70 years have had one thing in common.

On September 1, 1970, soon after President Nixon expanded the Vietnam War by invading neighboring Cambodia, Democratic Senator George McGovern, a decorated World War II veteran and future presidential candidate, took to the floor of the Senate and said,

“Every Senator [here] is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave.… This chamber reeks of blood.… It does not take any courage at all for a congressman or a senator or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed.”

More than six years had passed since Congress all but rubber-stamped President Lyndon Johnson’s notoriously vague Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which provided what little legal framework there was for military escalation in Vietnam. Doubts remained as to the veracity of the supposed North Vietnamese naval attacks on ships in the Tonkin Gulf that had officially triggered the resolution, or whether the Navy even had cause to venture so close to a sovereign nation’s coastline. No matter. Congress gave the president what he wanted: essentially a blank check to bomb, batter, and occupy South Vietnam. From there it was but a few short steps to nine more years of war, illegal secret bombings of Laos and Cambodia, ground invasions of both those countries, and eventually 58,000 American and upwards of 3 million Vietnamese deaths.

Leaving aside the rest of this country’s sad chapter in Indochina, let’s just focus for a moment on the role of Congress in that era’s war making. In retrospect, Vietnam emerges as just one more chapter in 70 years of ineptitude and apathy on the part of the Senate and House of Representatives when it comes to their constitutionally granted war powers. Time and again in those years, the legislative branch shirked its historic—and legal—responsibility under the Constitution to declare (or refuse to declare) war.

And yet, never in those seven decades has the duty of Congress to assert itself in matters of war and peace been quite so vital as it is today, with American troops engaged—and still dying, even if now in small numbers—in one undeclared war after another in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and now Niger… and who even knows where else.

Fast forward 53 years from the Tonkin Gulf crisis to Senator Rand Paul’s desperate attempt this September to force something as simple as a congressional discussion of the legal basis for America’s forever wars, which garnered just 36 votes. It was scuttled by a bipartisan coalition of war hawks. And who even noticed—other than obsessive viewers of C-SPAN who were treated to Paul’s four-hour-long cri de coeur denouncing Congress’s agreement to “unlimited war, anywhere, anytime, anyplace upon the globe”?

The Kentucky senator sought something that should have seemed modest indeed: to end the reliance of one administration after another on the long-outdated post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for all of America’s multifaceted and widespread conflicts. He wanted to compel Congress to debate and legally sanction (or not) any future military operations anywhere on Earth. While that may sound reasonable enough, more than 60 senators, Democratic and Republican alike, stymied the effort. In the process, they sanctioned (yet again) their abdication of any role in America’s perpetual state of war—other than, of course, funding it munificently.

 

Read More: https://www.thenation.com/article/american-warfares-giant-open-secret/