It may be too late. The president of the United States is now a veritable autocrat in the realm of foreign policy. He has been since at least 1945, when the last congressionally declared war finally ended. Wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (among other places) were all waged via executive fiat or feeble, open-ended congressional authorizations for the use of military force, aka AUMFs. So it has been with increasing intensity for 73 years and so, most likely, it will remain.
Along with many others, this military officer has repeatedly decried the no-longer-new normal of congressional acquiescence to presidential power to no avail. When, in September 2017, Republican Senator Rand Paul sought to repeal (and replace within six months) the existing 2001 AUMF, which had authorized the president to use force against the perpetrators and enablers of the 9/11 attacks, he could barely muster 35 votes. Given that any president, Republican or Democrat, would veto such a curtailment of the essentially unlimited executive prerogative to make war, that’s still some 32 votes short of a Senate override. In hopelessly divided Washington, that’s the definition of impossibility.
Fear not, two brave “centrist” senators, Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Tim Kaine, are riding to the rescue. Their recently announced bill to repeal and replace the existing AUMF promises to right seven decades of wrong and “establish rigorous congressional oversight,” “improve transparency,” and ensure “regular congressional review and debate.”
In reality, it would do none of those things. Though Senator Kaine gave a resounding speech in which he admitted that “for too long Congress has given presidents a blank check to wage war,” his bill would not stanch that power. Were it ever to pass, it would prove to be just another blank check for the war-making acts of Donald Trump and his successors.
Though there have certainly been many critiques of their piece of legislation, most miss the larger point: The Corker-Kaine bill would put a final congressional stamp of approval on the inversion of the war-making process that, over the last three-quarters of a century, has become a de facto constitutional reality. The men who wrote the Constitution meant to make the declaration of war a supremely difficult act, since both houses of Congress needed to agree and, in case of presidential disagreement, to be able to muster a supermajority to override a veto.
The Corker-Kaine bill would institutionalize the inverse of that. It would essentially rubber-stamp the president’s authority, for instance, to continue the ongoing shooting wars in at least seven countries where the US is currently dropping bombs or firing off other munitions. Worse yet, it provides a mechanism for the president to declare nearly any future group an “associated force” or “successor force” linked to one of America’s current foes and so ensure that Washington’s nearly 17-year-old set of forever wars can go on into eternity without further congressional approval.