Peter Gilbert: Supporting our troops means no more blank checks

Congress is the only institution with constitutional authority to declare war.

FILE - In this Dec. 30, 2020 file photo, people run following an explosion at the airport in Aden, Yemen, shortly after a plane carrying the newly formed Cabinet landed. (AP Photo, File)

In March, the United States Senate voted to repeal the 1991 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs). If this passes the House, it will finally end the Iraq wars. When was the last time you thought about the Iraq wars? Why did it take so long to repeal the authorizations to go to war with Saddam Hussein?

It is now generally acknowledged that the second Iraq War was a disaster and will probably go down as the single worst foreign policy decision of the United States. It was started under false pretenses, trillions of dollars wasted, thousands of American casualties, a million innocent people dead, and millions of refugees. It destabilized much of the Middle East, creating fertile ground for America’s enemies. Those who made this “mistake” should be held accountable.

AUMFs are blank checks given to the Pentagon for the lives of American service members. That is why there is no accountability. Congress is the only institution with constitutional authority to declare war. Congress has not declared war since 1942.

For over 80 years, Congress has abdicated its constitutional role in sending Americans into combat. For over 80 years, members of Congress have refused to put their names on the lines when our military put their lives on the line. The results are obvious. These never ending and unconstitutional endeavors are, and continue to be, disasters for our country. Our blood and treasure are spent without accountability.

“The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated … by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars ... and [The Constitutional Convention] resolved to so frame the Constitution so that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.” — Abraham Lincoln

Do you know how many wars the U.S. is fighting right now? And why? How many Utah service members are currently in unconstitutional war zones? Will there be accountability for their sacrifices? You cannot support the troops if you continue to trust their lives to unaccountable bureaucrats.

I deployed as an aircraft mechanic in 2018 and had an experience that has forever tinted my reflection on my military service. While preparing a jet to take off for a mission, the pilots gave a brief itinerary for that day’s objective.

“We are heading down to Yemen today to refuel some Saudi jets, they said. “Fingers crossed they don’t bomb another hospital…”

Why was I helping with that? If we know that is what they are purposely doing, why are we helping with that? That is definitely not what I enlisted to do. For those who don’t know, and what I did not know at the time, the United States supported and supplied Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen since 2015, enabling the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Why? It is because the president was given an AUMF with ambiguous, unconstrained, and open-ended objectives ... a blank check.

We need to end the use of blank check AUMFs. What can be done to conduct our national defense responsibly, and prevent military disasters like the second Iraq War and the Afghanistan withdrawal? Washington D.C. won’t fix itself, but there is something each state can do.

Almost half of combat troops today are from the National Guard, part time warriors from our community. States can force Congress to take responsibility by prohibiting the combat deployment of their state’s guardsmen without a congressional declaration of war. The Defend the Guard bill is being presented in statehouses across the country. The Pentagon has threatened to defund the National Guard of any state that passes this bill. The Pentagon would rather our country was less safe than be required to follow the Constitution. Utah’s congressmen could nullify the Pentagon’s defunding threats. Congress supposedly controls the funding, right?

Those of us who signed up to serve, deserve to be used responsibly. Those of us that swore oaths to defend the Constitution are duty-bound to get behind this legislation. This nonpartisan bill is supported by Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and ACLU posts and chapters nationwide. Call your Utah state representatives, demand they pass Defend the Guard.

Peter Gilbert

Peter Gilbert served in the Utah National Guard for 12 years.