The constitutionality of escalating war in Afghanistan

Few presidential candidates in the last seven years have campaigned more for pulling out of Afghanistan than President Donald Trump, so his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, 16 years after it began, is a shock to many who are tired of the globalist no-win and perpetual warfare, and in part voted for him to end it. His words resonated with most; “Afghanistan is a total and complete disaster,” he said. In another, he said, “Are they going to be there for the next 200 years?” In another, the U.S. had “wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure.” And another, he said, “What are we doing there? These people hate us … We’re a debtor nation. We can’t build our own schools, yet we build schools in Afghanistan.”

All of these points remain true and irrefutable, even though Trump said that viewing this war from the Oval Office prompted his reversal. War hawk Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, former political enemies, now love him as do many globalists. His having surrounded himself with generals, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster and James Mattis – more military influence in the White House than in decades – is said to have influenced this change. Certainly “the industrial military complex,” as warned by Eisenhower before leaving office in 1961, is well in place around him.

The Afghanistan War has cost the country over a trillion dollars in treasure and 3,539 coalition soldiers and is now the longest war in U.S. history. Nothing in his presidential speech, Aug. 21, changes any of this price tag. Adding some 4,000 new U.S. soldiers to the 8,400 presently there, together with another 6,000 from NATO countries, is not likely to change what 16 years and two prior presidents could not.

But all of this quandary would change if prior presidents of both political parties, and now Trump, took their oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” seriously as in Article 2, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution. Military powers are housed under the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 8, Clauses 9-17. These military powers include all power to declare and finance war, raise armies, “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces” and even determine the land that the military can use for training purposes. Nothing was omitted.

Under the Constitution, there can never be an unpopular war as the peoples’ representative, the House of Representatives, have total power over raising and funding the army. They must consent to the war by declaration because they provide blood and brawn for it, and they alone authorize the treasure for it. “All bills for raising revenue shall originate” with them, according to Article 1, Section 7, Clause 1.

Moreover, Congress was to monitor the war at two-year intervals through its power of the purse just described. “But no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years,” according to Article I, Section 8, Clause 12. If Congress is not happy with the progress of the war, it can require the generals to account for why total victory has not yet been obtained and reduce or enlarge funding, with time restraints, to keep officers focused – even the president – and on a short lease with respect to the war declared.

Why did the president get none of this power? Because he “had the most propensity for war,” James Madison argued in the Constitutional Convention. Kings traditionally had sole power over the lives of their subjects. Not so under the Constitution. One man would never have such power. A declaration of war gave clarity to its beginning with victory or defeat as its only ending. It could never be a casual thing as it is now.

In Afghanistan, war transcended from attacking, to regime change, to nation-building, to policing their country for them.  In fact, it remains uncertain as to which nation is most responsible for 9/11. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers flying into the World Trade Center and Pentagon buildings on that infamous day were Saudi nationals, as was Osama bin Laden. The country of Iraq had nothing to do with the attack, but received the first missiles in retaliation. Certainly al-Qaida dominated Afghanistan, but Saudi Arabia, who funded al-Qaida, got off scot-free.

The only constitutional power left by the Founders to the president is as “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” notice this piece, “when called into actual service of the United States,” which can only be done by Congress in Article II, Section 2, Clause 1. Otherwise, the military functioned under Congress, not the president. The president’s power to make war – outside immediate self-defense as in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – can only follow the legislature’s power to authorize war. Congress declared war on Japan the following day.

There was no declaration of war by Congress on Afghanistan or any other country since World War II, calling into “actual service” the military. Nor is there a specific two-year funding limitation on war as constitutionally required. Moreover, Congress clearly has been nullified in making the “rules for the government and regulation of land and naval forces” in this no-end conflict.

Recent presidents have usurped all of the military powers of Congress unto themselves, and Trump is doing the same thing. It is a dangerous slippery slope and clearly exceeds constitutional authority regardless of who inhabits the White House.

Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and to applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit

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