The ill-conceived Iraq war that began in March, 2003 brought to the fore an issue I’ve been whining about for decades: Congress’ inability to actually declare a war. More than that, the cowardly method used by the government to populate the troops has been a glaring act of non-courage by the civilian “leaders” who are supposed to be looking out for such things.
The recent story (link) about a woman being called back as a reservist even though she has two young children with no other stable alternative for care has also brought to a head another peeve I’ve had since not long after the the Iraq conflict began. While some sites showing this story are polling as to whether mothers should get special treatment, I think that misses the point. The point is that after nine years of conflict we still have no other means of manning our volunteer forces than by an open-ended indenture of our fine men and women even after their enlistment and discharge.
The over-reliance on Reserves and National Guard troops combined with the inability of our elected leaders to call a war what it is does nothing more than weaken the fabric of the United States. Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave my Aunt Fanny. It’s more like the home of those who know how to take political cover in order to get re-elected.
The Constitutional theory is that military conflicts are a bit of a dance between the President and Congress. Congress declares war, raises the forces necessary, and funds the war. The President, as commander-in-chief, then prosecutes the war with the only limitation being Congressional purse strings.
The most recent war that was declared as such by the U.S. Congress was World War II. Why none since? A desire for more power and a cowardice of blame. Basically Congress wants it both ways. They want to credit for backing an action that must be taken while also reserving the right to accuse the president of overstepping their bounds when it’s politically expedient to do so. An overt declaration of war commits the Congress to supporting the action until a resolution to the conflict is in hand.
To be fair, presidents don’t make it easy. Many get drunk with the concept of being commander-in-chief of all the armed forces of the United States. The founders were concerned with this as well. While allowing that the president should be able to act without congressional approval in the event of a sudden and clear danger, the idea was that just as soon as it was able, Congress would decide if the country’s forces should be used in the endeavor. The idea was to prevent a power-crazed president from getting us involved in vainglorious wars… you know, like the one in Iraq.
But Congress, ever wishy-washy, now only issues authorizations of force. Some say that it is, in effect, a declaration of war. Thing is…it isn’t. If a thing is going to be war, whether we say so or not, then we might as well say so. Nothing is stopping congress from saying so. Not saying a conflict is a war speaks volumes. It also tends to paint a stripe of yellow down the middle of the U.S. Capitol.
As despicable as this abrogation of responsibility by the Congress is, I’ve yet to see anything more dastardly than how both the Executive and Legislative branches have found the bodies to put in harm’s way. I think most of us would assume that if the military didn’t have the manpower to fight a war, then Congress would revive the military draft. Since 1980, men aged 18-25 have been required to register with the Selective Service in the event a draft becomes necessary (this law should be amended to include women, but when it was put in place the roles of women in the military weren’t what they are in the 21st century). Many in Congress feel it’s political suicide if you vote to reinstate the draft, so they don’t.
A result of this failure to properly man the armed forces allowed the administration of G.W. Bush to get creative. Tours of duty were extended. Leave between tours were shortened. Needless to say, this didn’t help combat readiness nor moral. But, in a manning policy that is nothing but hubris, reservists and the National Guard were called up to serve in Iraq.
If this had been a sudden and immediate conflict, I could understand the need to temporarily man some positions until the regular forces could be brought on-line. The Reserves are supposed to be that buffer while you wait for new troops to be trained. They aren’t supposed to be this shadow army that you get to abuse just because you don’t have the courage to ask for a military draft.
But it didn’t stop there. National Guard troops from around the United States were called to active duty (more or less) overseas. Instead of being a homeland militia, directly protecting Americans from homeland threats, they were a second shadow army to avoid the politically unpopular idea of a draft. These fine men and women who signed up to protect the country as a militia, not as a regular international combatant (you don’t think they couldn’t have signed up for the regular military if they’d wanted?), were basically drafted into service.
I think it was amazingly cowardly, and it will have repercussions.
I’ve talked with several ex-military, and they have been advising young people to not sign up for military service, or even the Guard, if they can avoid it. Why? Because the way it is being run now, once you join you’ll never get out. They’ll just keep calling you up (assuming you muster out at some point) over and over again until you are either in pieces, dead, or too old to be useful. Everyone who is sane agrees that the current practice is just evil. At some point a person who has risked all to serve their country should be assured that they’ll get to go home and live a life. (Of course, many administrations don’t commit funds to re-train military to be civilians again, and that’s equally evil.)
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see a draft. I remember the Vietnam era, and the draft was not a good thing to have around. But…if the United States is going to bring guns to bear on a situation, its leaders should have respect enough for the Americans it will be putting at risk that it will do what it can to ensure that their terms of primary service are honored. Reserves should be used only as a stop-gap. National Guard should stay at home. To do otherwise is just government thumbing its nose at the Constitution.
At their core, Americans want to believe in their government. When their leaders act in self-serving and cowardly ways, that belief is much harder to hold on to. I hate that a climate of ass-shielding permeates the Congress. I hate that too often presidents will play war because of some personal agenda. I’d like to think that we deserve better. Perhaps the high ideals I’ve gotten from what the founders intended are inappropriate for the modern age. Maybe we do have the government that we deserve (which is depressing). I’d like to think that we can always do better and must strive to do so.
Mr. President, members of the House and the Senate, you ask the American people all the time to take responsibility for their actions. Well…you first.
(Oh…my thought on whether the moms should have to serve? Yeah, they enlisted, they should have to pay the piper. After all, men have children they love, too.)