Congress and war

Are circumstances in the Middle East better now than they were prior to our declaration of a “war on terror” and subsequent U.S. military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan? Has the sacrifice made by thousands upon thousands of U.S. military personnel and their families, and the squandering of trillions of dollars that never were included in annual budgets, put our nation or the strife-torn Middle East on a path to a brighter future?

The answer to both of those questions is a resounding “no.”

But make no mistake. In prosecuting its war on terror, the United States has only hardened the resolve of legions of Islamic zealots and extremists who regard our nation as the “Great Satan” and their foremost enemy.

To answer the most recent threat posed by ISIS – the so-called Islamic State – President Barack Obama has once again adopted a half-a-loaf approach, authorizing the bombing of targets in Syria and Iraq but steadfastly opposing the return of any U.S. combat troops into the region. Meanwhile, Congress first dithered and then went on vacation so members could campaign for re-election while avoiding any tough decisions. That lack of action prompted Maine’s Sen. Angus King to speak out last week. Noting that lawmakers, for decades, have ceded their constitutional authority to declare war to presidents, King declared, “It’s time for Congress to stand up, put itself on record and make some decisions here.”

And he is right.

For more than a decade, under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, neither they nor Congress were willing or able to determine and define to the public what we expected to achieve through our military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. To simply declare a unending war on terror is insufficient. Terrorists have no borders, no defined territory or established boundaries, no formal government – and clearly no will to surrender.

Our current involvement in the Middle East is untenable. Missiles and bombs don’t discriminate. They make no distinction between the most brutal extremist and the innocent man or woman caught up in the ongoing turmoil. With each life we take, another family looks upon us as the enemy.

As elected representatives of the people, Congress must decide whether we, as a nation, are willing to do whatever is necessary for a fight to the finish – with ISIS or whoever our enemy is determined to be. If that fight is to continue, Congress must declare war against that enemy and manage and pay for that activity. That would mean a return to a military draft, and the reality that more American lives will be lost and taxes on the country’s wealth should be committed to winning that war.

Meanwhile, we must all remember: It’s the losers, not the winners, who determine when a war has ended.

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