The Senate Armed Services Committee held an important, under-discussed hearing recently. The question at hand: Should they expand the 2001 law that authorized military action after 9/11?
During the hearing, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” We agree, with this caveat: The current authorization should be revoked, not expanded, when the war against core al-Qaida and the Taliban ends.
According to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, the U.S. military has “decimated” the core of al-Qaida. As our troops prepare to come home from Afghanistan ahead of the end of combat operations in 2014, our representatives in Congress ought to be contemplating an end to the longest war in American history. Instead, some in Congress are looking to expand and prolong it.
They argue it is difficult to shoehorn emerging terrorist threats in Syria, Mali, Algeria and elsewhere into the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. That's true; these are different threats, but that doesn't mean we are at war.
If we need to mobilize against an enemy, as we did after 9/11, Congress has demonstrated its ability to act with alacrity. If the enemy poses an imminent threat, the president has inherent Article 2 powers under the Constitution to repel them. New proposals would cede to the president authority to go to war against terrorist groups, including ones with no connection to 9/11 or any other attack on the United States.
Congress holds the constitutional authority to determine when the United States goes to war. It should not cede blank check authority to the president. Before we commit our sons and daughters to war, there should be a robust debate in the halls of Congress and over the dinner tables in America.
To commit ourselves to war against every group that bears some vague resemblance to al-Qaida, regardless of its aims or capacity, is to commit ourselves to war without end. Such a war would make us less safe because it would impede the global cooperation — diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, economic — that is essential to disrupting terrorism cells.
In a major speech last week at the National Defense University, President Obama agreed: “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands.”
It is important to note that the president hasn't asked for new authority to use military force and rejected calls for such authority in 2011. It would be unprecedented for Congress to pass an Authorization for Use of Military Force that a president has not requested.
Our armed forces are the best in the world, and they are prepared to take on any mission. But for their sake, and ours, we should not expand the war that began 12 years ago. We should wind it down.
Otstott served 32 years in the Army, retiring as a lieutenant general. Eaton, a retired major general, served more than 33 years in the Army.