Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis each spoke to the US Senate’s Foreign Service Committee on Monday, and they asked for the same thing: authorization for the military to fight endless wars on its own terms.
They said that if Congress passes a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), it should have no time or geographical contraints. This means that the military would be able to fight a war anywhere, anytime, and for any reason without approval from Congress. This in spite of the constitutional mandate that only Congress should have the power to declare war.
Tillerson and Mattis said that Congress shouldn’t constrain the military by time so as to not signal the enemy when they’re going to quit, and that they shouldn’t constrain them by geography because the enemy could transition to another part of the world. Which is to say, nothing would ever constrain them.
The two also stated that Congress should not repeal the 2001 AUMF until it passes a new AUMF that meets their demands. They asked for this because they believe the 2001 AUMF already grants them the ability to wage war endlessly, albeit perhaps not as explicitly as they would like.
These demands come just a short time after the tragedy in Niger, where 4 U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush — despite many lawmakers being unaware of the extent of military operations in that country. These same lawmakers insist that this is reason enough for Congress reestablish its constitutional authority in matters of warmaking, but if Tillerson and Mattis get their way, tragedies such as the one in Niger could become the norm. It could also be minor compared to what could happen if the Executive branch and the military were given a blank check.
Unfortunately, Congress is divided over how to reestablish its authority, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) has said that any changes to the AUMF would require bipartisan support. Which means it’s unlikely to happen, especially in today’s ultra-divisive political climate. Though outgoing Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has proposed a new AUMF with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), and he also shot down Tillerson and Mattis’ arguments, stating that Congress’s constitutional responsibility outweighs any concerns about signaling the enemy.
The only thing standing in the way of endless war may just be alliances between libertarian Republicans and liberal Democrats like the one between Flake and Kaine. But they’ll need to be much broader in order to succeed.