Letters to the Editor

Finally! Congress wants oversight on foreign policy

Trump's decision to bring troops home gets strong reaction from legislators

U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet military personnel at the dining facility during an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet military personnel at the dining facility during an unannounced visit to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

President Donald Trump has once again managed to frustrate people on all sides of the political class.

The president announced last week he plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Those decisions were swiftly rebuked by both Republicans and Democrats in federal office.

Republican U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both directly criticized Trump’s new strategies. “You shouldn’t embolden the Taliban during negotiations,” Grassley said on Twitter regarding ongoing peace talks.

“We committed to our partners on the ground to see this fight to the end, and we are now turning our back on their good faith efforts and sacrifices,” Ernst said in a news release, referring to Syria.

After a frustrated Defense Secretary James Mattis signaled his impending departure in the wake of the withdrawal announcements, U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack — Iowa’s lone Democrat in Congress until the new year — said on Twitter that Trump “needs to use this as an opportunity to rethink seriously his approach to the world and the manner in which he makes decisions.”

It is sadly ironic to see members of Congress lurching to check the president, because they are the ones who have abandoned their war powers and gifted the White House unilateral authority over foreign affairs. It is those lawmakers who should be rethinking the manner in which they make decisions.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has been murky for years, and it has never been clear what achievable goal the United States has in Syria. By law, those operations are technically limited to defeating terrorists, but that is a nebulous and likely unattainable goal. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s stated policy in Syria has been regime change. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered a speech in January repeatedly referring to a “post-Assad” Syria.

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There’s no doubt the Assad regime deserves to be toppled, but recent history tells us that will be a lengthy, expensive and perilous project — look to Afghanistan as an example. Such a commitment demands a robust public debate, which we’re not having.

Reasonable people can and should have disagreements about foreign policy, but few of Trump’s detractors are offering up even a semblance of an exit strategy or tangible goals we might achieve through our prolonged military interventions overseas.

Representatives and senators, who are beholden to the will of the people, should be having these discussions in open session, but instead the executive branch acts alone, and Congress second guesses.

Presidents of the post-9/11 world have demonstrated the very good reasons why the authority to declare war ought to reside in Congress and not the White House. Americans have cringed to see leaders they don’t like wield such deadly power unchecked.

Action in Afghanistan was approved by Congress nearly 20 years ago, and the Syrian intervention has never been Constitutionally authorized. If those activities are pursuant to our national security, Congress should find it easy to assemble support to authorize them and define our mission. Perhaps now they finally are starting to see that necessity.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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