Don’t blink or you might miss it.
While much of our attention, and that of Congress, is appropriately focused on hurricane recovery, the United States Senate this week is quietly taking up the National Defense Authorization Act that will set the Pentagon’s budget and programs for next year.
There are some major issues in play, and those of us who are concerned about spending, foreign military interventions, surveillance and transgender rights need to be paying attention.
Waging wars without clear congressional authorization
Let’s begin with the basic: How have the last two presidents, and our current one, managed to wage wars on the other side of the globe without any clear congressional authorization? My copy of the Constitution doesn’t allow that.
Trillions of dollars and, more importantly, thousands of lives have been spent in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on the basis of an Authorization for Use of Military Force approved 16 years ago in the days following the 9/11 attacks.
That authorization, which I supported, was intended to allow us to go after those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” those attacks.
Presidents Bush, Obama and now Trump have used that single authorization ever since to legally justify not only a 16-year war in Afghanistan, but the war in Iraq, our military actions in Libya and Syria, and several other interventions.
Since September of 2001, Congress has never been required to authorize putting our military members in harm’s way, dropping bombs all over the world, and spending trillions on wars that, unfortunately, have done little or nothing to make America safer.
Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, to his credit, is offering an amendment to the NDAA to repeal that 2001 authorization and force Congress and the president to “reauthorize” the interventions in which we are currently engaged. That amendment needs to be approved.
Closing unneeded and costly military bases
Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, is offering an amendment to revive a process to review and potentially close unneeded and costly military bases. Virtually everyone who looks closely at our military spending ends up agreeing that we have dozens, if not hundreds, of installations scattered around the world that we simply do not need.
Many are vestiges of the WWII and the Cold War that have no relevance to today’s realities. They are, simply put, just massive transfers of wealth from us to the nations who host those bases. And here on U.S. soil, too many are still maintained and funded purely due to politics, not need.
Will Congress have the political courage to even think about closing some of those bases and saving billions of dollars?
And a bipartisan amendment is being offered to put a statutory hold on President Trump’s Twitter-announced ban on transgendered individuals in the military. It’s an extremely sensitive issue handled in an incredibly insensitive way. Pentagon officials have wisely put the brakes on the President’s directive, but the additional assurance of legislative action would put Congress on record against hurtful discrimination.
There are dozens of other amendments in the works that will determine the potential expenditure of tens of billions of dollars. Anyone who claims or believes that we can make any real progress toward balancing the federal budget without putting military spending under a microscope is either lying or dreaming.
This week’s debate and action on the NDAA is the opportunity to face that reality and actually do something about it.
Let’s hope the Senate can show some courage and leadership for a change.
(Army MEDEVAC helicopter crew members with Dustoff Task Force Shadow of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade help Marines carry a severely wounded Marine to a helicopter on September 23, 2010, near Marja, Afghanistan. The Marine later died of his injuries. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.)