The events of the past month have brought into stark relief the truly broken nature of America’s civil-military dialogue. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in Niger, part of an ongoing mission few Americans, including their leaders, were even aware of. The president was criticized for first ignoring, then showing a lack of sensitivity to their deaths. His chief of staff, a former Marine general whose son was killed in combat, criticized the press and politicians for taking advantage of the tragedy for political gain, suggesting that those without a personal connection to the military don’t appreciate the sacrifice of those in uniform and have no standing to comment.
Whatever you think of John Kelly’s remarks, the divide between civilians and the increasingly small number of service members and veterans in the United States is real—and 40 years after the end of mandatory conscription, it’s never been wider. Because of this divide, most Americans have the luxury of ignoring the wars their country is waging on a day-to-day basis around the world, and Congress is under little pressure to rein them in.
Congress has refused to curtail the actions of the president either in this or previous administrations, while showing little interest in grappling with the difficult issues of military engagement. In order to force their hand, there needs to be a requirement to renew an Authorization for Use of Military Force annually—instigating this debate every single year. The renewal should be tied to something so politically unsavory as to ensure Congress does not continue to shirk its constitutional obligations.
Read the full op-ed in Slate.