Reduce our all-volunteer standing military to reduce the conflicts they fight in

March 21, 2016
Having a large all-volunteer standing military goes against what our founding fathers envisioned, shields the American public from the wars they fight, and can be readily deployed by the president without congressional authorization.

Beginning in August of 2014, when our large all-volunteer standing military first began airstrikes against the Islamic State, as Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter's veterans' liaison, I made the case that Congress needed to pass a Declaration of War to get a buy in from the American people or at least pass a new Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) to demonstrate Congress' commitment to the effort. Congress has passed neither over the past 18 months of our military striking the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and soon possibly Libya. With New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary behind us, and our focus shifting toward the election of our congressional delegation, please consider the candidates' commitments to uphold their constitutional duties.

Concerns over a large standing army being under the control of a single elected official, prompted our Founding Fathers to install a series of checks in our Constitution. Article II, Section 3, names the president commander-in-chief and with it the power to direct the military. Meanwhile, to balance that power, Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, vests in Congress the responsibility to declare war. Furthermore, Article I, Section 8, Clause 12, gives Congress the power to raise and support a standing army, but limits appropriating funds to support that army to just two years. In 1973, Congress made the War Powers Resolution law, over President Richard Nixon's veto, in response to President Nixon sending our military to war in Cambodia without its authorization. The War Powers Resolution allows presidents to commit our military for only 60 days without a Declaration of War, an AUMF, or in case of a 'national emergency' caused by an attack. Presidents are allowed 30 additional days to withdraw our forces.

Reviewing conflicts since our last Declaration of War illustrates how the public's connection with the frontlines are tied to whether a large standing military exists and how Congress authorizes its deployment. Congress last declared war in World War II, and the associated draft was accompanied by a homefront war effort where everyone sacrificed under rationing, price controls and higher taxes. The Vietnam War was the last time the draft was used to raise a large army, keeping the public immersed in the fighting, but the AUMF that authorized it was not accompanied by a homefront war effort. The Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq Wars were all authorized by an AUMF using only our large all-volunteer standing military, resulting in less than 1 percent of Americans being connected to the past decade and a half of war and even the costs being passed off to future generations. Now that all combat arms are rightfully open to women, some members of Congress are considering doing away with the Selective Service altogether instead of requiring all able-bodied 18-year-olds to register, which would only further exacerbate the disconnect between the American public and the conflicts we send our all-volunteer military to fight.

In addition to shielding the American public from our wars, a large all-volunteer standing military can be readily deployed by the president without congressional authorization. In March, 2011, the United States launched airstrikes against Muammar Gaddafi's forces in Libya without an AUMF, and after the 60-day restriction had expired, it was argued that no authorization was needed because our military's role was limited to supportive airstrikes. By contrast, in August 2013, the president sought an AUMF to launch airstrikes against President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria for using chemical weapons against his own people, but only the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations was willing to do its congressional duty and vote on it. The following year, after 60 days of airstrikes against the Islamic State passed without congressional action, the 2001 AUMF that authorized the Afghanistan war against al-Qaida and the 2002 AUMF that authorized the Iraq war were cited as congressional authorizations.

America's all-volunteer military, not the American people, have been at war for the past 15 years, with many of the volunteers fighting against the Islamic State today being Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Their new mission continues to grow, with March bringing the first-ever American ground artillery barrage against the Islamic State and talks of American advisers accompanying Iraqi Army Brigades in the eventual assault to retake Mosul. As both a former artillery platoon leader and a former Iraqi Army Battalion combat adviser, the ability of members of Congress to say they support the troops then neglect their fundamental constitutional duties appalls me. My hope is that the members of the next congressional delegation we elect will fulfill their vows and at a minimum pass a new AUMF if they continue to vote to fund our large all-volunteer standing military's campaign against the Islamic State.