July 30, 2020

Congress must use its tools to influence the decisions of war

By Richard Fontaine and Loren DeJonge Schulman

In matters of peace and war, no one seems satisfied with Congress. Over the past two decades of conflict and despite its formal powers to declare wars, appropriate funds, and organize the armed forces, Congress has largely deferred and used more of a rhetorical fight than actively shaping American wars. But it need not be this way.

By exercising its informal influence, meaning everything other than legislating, members of Congress can test prewar intelligence and define likely costs and benefits.

Members on both sides of the aisle have sought a greater voice on national security matters. Since 2019, bipartisan groups condemned the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, punished Russia for a range of bad behaviors, and sought limitations on U.S. force drawdowns in Syria and South Korea. Congress voted to invoke the War Powers Resolution for the first time, attempting to curtail U.S. intervention in Yemen, and this spring passed legislation to require legislative approval for war with Iran.

These examples of renewed congressional activism are striking, but their actual effects have been highly limited. Presidential vetoes, disputes over renewing authorizations for the use of military force, and insufficient support for new oversight mechanisms have together frustrated many attempts to legislate the course of American conflicts. While Congress should continue to pursue legislative means, it is the body’s relatively neglected informal toolkit that stands as the likelier path to influence.

Read the full article in The Hill.

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