This Week in War Powers News – September 4, 2020

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The content below comes from the newsletter This Week in War Powers News, provided by the Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy.



Trump Hasn’t Ended Endless Wars. Congress Must Act

Speakers at last week’s Republican National Convention lauded President Trump as a foe of endless wars. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) praised the president for “bringing our men and women home,” while Eric Trump claimed that his father accomplished “peace in the Middle East. Never-ending wars were finally ended.”

Just hours later, we learned of a direct clash between U.S. and Russian troops in northern Syria. Military vehicles from each country raced in an open field until a Russian vehicle collided with a U.S. vehicle, injuring four Americans, with each side claiming the other was to blame. Former administration official Brett McGurk noted that “these incidents have been ongoing for months.”

How did we arrive at a situation where the two most heavily armed nuclear powers are facing off in rural Syria without congressional authorization? READ MORE.



Biden Should Pledge to Cut Back on Presidential War Powers

Recent polls place Joe Biden a tentative few paces ahead of President Trump in the 2020 presidential race. If Biden is elected this coming November, he will enter the Oval Office on a wave of anti-Trump fervor and with a campaign platform in hand that, courting the progressive vote, has made a significant leftward shift since the democratic primaries began at the start of 2019. A report issued last month by a “unity taskforce” of Biden and Bernie Sanders staffers registered how far forward the Democratic presidential nominee has travelled on key issues like climate change, health care, and criminal justice. But the report was silent on another topic: foreign policy.

To prove that he has moved beyond a military-leaning approach to global affairs, Biden will need to embrace a foreign policy that concretely reorients America’s relationship to the world away from domination toward cooperation. And as the inheritor of Trump’s erratic foreign policy legacy, Biden must not accept a mangled status quo; he will need to make a sharp, consistent break left. READ MORE.



Congress Has Broad Power to Structure the Military

Could Congress require that the secretary of defense, rather than the president alone, approve a nuclear weapons launch? Could it require that a particular Senate-confirmed officer command troops in a certain theater, even if the president would rather have some other officer do the job? Could it bar the president, even in wartime, from removing a top general or admiral without cause, thereby preventing him from selecting someone else to fill the position?

Presidents and commentators have often assumed that such laws, or even more modest measures dictating military structures and functions, would be unconstitutional. In a 2017 letter to Congress, for example, the Trump administration’s Justice Department objected to provisions requiring “manning levels” for certain units, invoking an attorney general opinion from the Buchanan administration as support for doing so. “Presidents have asserted … since at least 1860,” the letter declared, that they may decide, as commander in chief, which military officers will “perform any particular duty.”

In fact, this view is wrong. READ MORE.