In the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, much was made of the threat of ISIS. Wild threats abounded as candidates fought each other over who would come down harder on the then-thriving Islamic State.
Sen. Ted Cruz threatened to “carpet bomb (ISIS) into oblivion”.
Now-President Trump promised to “bomb the (expletive) out of ‘em.”
Former Secretary of State and presidential participation trophy winner Hillary Clinton added the possibility of war with Russia by insisting on a no-fly zone over Syria.
And who could forget neocon mascot Senators Rick Santorum and Lindsey Graham engaging in what amounted to a bidding war over who would dump more American ground troops into the Middle East?
But since the Trump administration clunked into gear a year ago, news about ISIS has grown more and more sparse, with the latest revelation buried under coverage of the President’s latest Twitter meltdown:
ISIS is gone.
Over the course of the last year, ISIS has been destroyed by increased airstrikes, and coalition armies have systematically liberated ISIS-held territory across Iraq, to the point that both the Iraqi and Iranian governments have declared victory over the self-appointed caliphate.
Of course this is wonderful news for Iraqis, Iranians, Kurds, and everyone else oppressed by the brutal black-flagged regime.
But will it mean good news for American families?
Out of 1.3 million active US military personnel, about 450,000 are deployed overseas. That’s right – nearly half a million Americans are deployed at over 600 bases in at least 130 different countries, at a time when we have exactly zero declared wars.
When are they coming home?
The victory over ISIS, while encouraging, doesn’t remotely put the War on Terror to bed. Aside from the thousands of soldiers still fighting America’s longest war in Afghanistan and mopping up ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we have hundreds of even thousands of American troops in places like Norway and Poland, and a large Air Force presence in Somalia.
The last time the United States actually fought a Congressionally-declared war was in WWII, and that’s important because in the absence of a congressional declaration, we have slowly built up a perpetual military presence around the world, with no end in sight.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
The Constitution vested the power to declare war with Congress alone, so that the people’s representatives would get a say in our decision to send Americans to die. A quick review of the last sixty years will show that, as Congress has deferred that power to the President via authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs), conflicts have started more frequently and dragged on much longer, with no defined scope or condition of victory. As I pointed out in a recent column about Presidential Emergency Powers, ceaseless foreign conflicts and undefined potential threats have removed virtually all accountability from executive power. If the President wants a war, the President gets a war – Congress be damned.
As much as we have been conditioned to accept the presupposition that a persistent, global American military presence is necessary for our security, that’s really not the case at all. President Eisenhower’s famous warning about the “military-industrial complex” has been largely unheeded, and it’s undeniable at this point that there are a lot of folks in both the public and private sectors who profit, either directly or indirectly, from the massive and perpetual show of American force. That profit is at least part of the reason that the United States currently spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined, nearly three times the second-place nation on the list, China.
But the $610 billion we spend for defense each year pales in comparison to the cost in human life and limb precipitated by our consistent propensity for foreign adventurism. Since 2001, 6,930 Americans have died fighting the War on Terror, and over 52,566 have been wounded.
And that’s without factoring in the tragic epidemic of veteran suicide.
Outside the states, the death toll has been exponentially greater, with estimates ranging between one and two million dead in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan alone.
The longer a war drags on, the greater the danger that these numbers will become mere statistics, and that’s why the defeat of ISIS presents a great opportunity to change course on our reckless foreign policy. With the rise of antiwar sentiment on the conservatarian right and its slow integration into the pro-life movement there should be plenty of common ground and political will to draw down our foreign involvement.
It’s time to take advantage of the opportunity to bring our people home, before more Americans come home in body bags.
Article originally published in the Des Moines Register.
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