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Congress, It’s Time To Check The President’s War Powers

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Mike Pompeo, while acting as CIA director, believed that the CIA was being needlessly constrained in their efforts towards counter-terrorism. With a simple plea to President Donald Trump, the progress that former President Barrack Obama had made towards greater transparency and accountability in counter-terrorism, was gone. During his administration, Trump has been able to waltz around, doing as he pleases, no matter the cost. Trump has given U. S. generals the green light on counter-terror efforts, and no longer need approval from the White House for strike decisions or counter-terror actions. And Congress? They’ve done nothing to curtail the use of presidential power for war-making efforts and should be ashamed of themselves.

Counter-terrorism is messy and it’s complex. Any U. S. president has to be able to act to these ever-changing terrorist threats and needs the capacity to act when such threats occur. A president can’t be held down by cumbersome legislation that would hinder this process and restrict the president’s ability to act. However, there can’t be a blank check on the president’s power to wage war. Trump has increased his use of counter-terrorism measures without any restraints, primarily through the use of drone strike and air strikes in Yemen and Somalia, with incomplete accounts on the number of strikes and casualties. To be fair, this is not a problem with Donald Trump. He is simply a microcosm of a broken system. The body behind the broken system? Look no further than Congress.

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For too long, Congress has neglected its constitutional duty and has utterly failed at restraining presidential power in war-making, especially in the post 9/11 era. In the “endless war” period, nothing has been off the table. And while Trump may seem like the villain in the modern day, it can’t be forgotten that for too long, Barack Obama operated with little transparency, a great deal of secrecy, and little to no congressional oversight in counter-terrorism measures. Obama had the capacity to limit himself at the end of his term. We can’t expect Donald Trump, or future presidents for that matter, to do the same. But we can expect that oversight to come from Congress. And they currently have the tool to do it. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), two bills passed by Congress, have been around since 2001 when issued for Iraq and 2002 when issued for Afghanistan. 17 years after the first bill, they still govern how the U. S. interacts with terrorism. A lot has changed since then; technology in war has evolved and terrorism is no longer confined to a region but has become a global phenomenon.

It’s time for a new AUMF to govern counter-terror actions, hold the president to account, and bring transparency into the process. US Senator Jeff Merkley has proposed a solution for an updated AUMF, and it’s time for Congress to listen. Why? Because as Senator Merkley puts it, the “framers of the constitution did not intend for the president to have unchecked powers to wage war”[footnoteRef:9]. I agree. Not only does the AUMF proposed by Senator Merkley look to limit presidential authority on waging war, it brings power back to Congress and attempts to get the U. S. out of its endless war mindset. Senator Merkley’s proposed modern AUMF has 7 main principles, including required congressional authorization for new military actions against terrorist groups, an adherence to international laws, required transparency on objectives towards terrorism, reports on civilian causalities as a result of US military action, and a sunset clause to continuously renew the bill to adapt to changing conditions.

Congress should take a really hard look at Senator Merkley’s proposal. While it is hard to anticipate how support for the bill will be received in Congress, the bill would put the presidential power back in line and give Congress back its constitutional duty to keep the president in check. The bill would begin to outline how counter-terror is carried out in modern times, without greatly restricting the process all while bringing in much-needed transparency and accountability to counter-terrorism. It’s a win for all parties involved, and the reason it should be supported. The alternative is to do nothing, and stick to the current status quo, allowing the president to overreach with their power to wage war. Trump isn’t the first in the counter-terrorism era to overreach with his power. Obama did before him, and Bush did before Obama. If nothing is done and Congress doesn’t step up, Trump won’t be the last and the consequences could be more severe.

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