The American Constitutional Upside Down

Glenn Verasco | Thailand

If you’re not familiar with Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things, don’t worry; I won’t reveal any major spoilers. A central theme of the show is that a portal into a parallel dimension opens. The terrors that lurk there are spilling out into a small town in our own world. Once the main characters discover this, they refer to the parallel universe as “The Upside Down.”

The Upside Down States of America

A bipartisan majority of U.S. Senators recently decided that America needs a taste of The Upside Down, too. By a 68-23 margin, the Senate affirmed a resolution to block any of Trump’s attempts to remove American troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

The vote comes amid repeated announcements and tweets by the president that he will fulfill one of his central campaign promises by ending some of the U.S.’s endless wars abroad, particularly in Syria. This would fit in well with his America First slogan. Bringing our troops home would allow the government to focus on the country it presides over. Moreover, it enables it to respect the autonomy of the globe’s many states.

When the president began talking withdrawal, establishment members of both parties and a hostile mainstream media scoffed and presented lame justifications for our presence in both countries. Many claimed that Turkey, our NATO ally, would “slaughter” our Kurdish allies if the mere 2,000 US troops still in Syria went home. The Kurds and Turks admittedly have their differences. However, this would be a first in their shared history, not to mention the fact that Kurds are rough and tough; nobody will slaughter them.

Weak Reasons to Remain Abroad

It’s also worth noting that many of the same people who claim we need to protect the Kurds from Turkey lost their minds when Trump suggested the U.S. should leave the outdated and useless bureaucratic leviathan we call NATO. In a transparent display of idiocy, they simultaneously claim (1) we can’t leave NATO because it would be a betrayal of our NATO allies and (2) we can’t leave Syria because it would be a betrayal of our Kurdish allies who our NATO allies would slaughter. Talk about Stranger Things…

Other purported reasons to remain in Syria and Afghanistan are that leaving these aimless 10 and 17-year missions, respectively, would be “precipitous”. And of course, something, something, something, Russia.

Despite the contradictions and hollow fear-mongering, the real reason the situation is so upside down is that Congress never authorized the wars Trump is trying to end. On the other hand, the commander-in-chief’s power to withdraw troops requires no authorization at all.

Presidential Powers

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “to declare war”. Article II, Section 2 names the president “commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States”. To me, “commander-in-chief” sounds pretty self-explanatory. Perhaps the Founders would have had to have written “Total Super Ultra Mega Boss of the Military” to get it through the thick skulls of today’s Democrats and Republicans.

It is true that Congress authorized former President George W. Bush to use military force against those responsible for the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Despite this, he did not get permission to occupy Afghanistan indefinitely for whatever reasons he and his successors could conjure up. The language in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists is admittedly vague. Thus, it might be fair to say that Congress and a gullible public are to blame as much as the executive.

On the other hand, President Barack Obama was outright denied authorization to invade Syria in a bipartisan fashion, but he did so anyway. Nice one, Barry.

Make Ending Wars Easy Again

Going to war should not be this easy, and ending wars should not be this hard. Our Founders were right to warn against entangling alliances and sticking our noses in other nations’ business. Engaging in either of these endeavors drains American lives, liberty, and treasure. It also prevents our neighbors abroad from learning to develop themselves. Neoconservatives can spend hours explaining why dependency upon welfare undermines an individual’s ability to develop. For some reason, they are too blind to see that dependency upon a foreign militia has the same result on nations.

However upside down our government is, President Trump cannot blame the potential failure to end the wars in Afghanistan and Syria on Congress. He has unquestioned authority to command the armed forces. No one can stop him from exercising his powers but himself. Playing politics by waiting a little while to accomplish this goal could be a forgivable strategic maneuver. But Trump will deserve total and complete blame if this promise is broken.

Mr. President, it’s time to grow a pair and order things right-side up.

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