“Our national security strategy, once a robust combination of diplomacy, information, military, and economy, has become one of ‘just do something…anything,’ in which we believe any problem can be solved with a sprinkling of drones, bombs, or boots. We simply cannot sustain this accelerating expenditure of blood and treasure.”
In recent years, our country has become embroiled in many wars, most of them not authorized by Congress as required by Article I of The Constitution. In fact, the last authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF – what we have substituted for a formal declaration of war) were for Iraq and Afghanistan, issued under the administration of President George W. Bush.
President Obama has cited both AUMF 2001 (Public Law 107-40, directed at those who committed the 9/11 attacks, and which authorized the invasion of Afghanistan) and AUMF 2002 (Public Law 107-243, authorizing force against Iraq) as his justification for his use of military force throughout the Middle East, and specifically in Iraq and Syria against Daesh (also known as ISIL/ISIS).
The problem is that that neither of those AUMFs are valid for such action.
AUMF 2001 specifically authorizes force against “nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” Daesh, an organization which did not exist prior to 2013, does not fall under such authority.
AUMF 2002, on the other hand, had as its scope the now-defunct government of Iraq under Saddam Hussein and the terrorist organizations that government supported, and was limited to the confines of Iraq.
So, just like his war in Libya, President Obama’s war in Syria and Northern Iraq is illegal under The Constitution.
You might ask why this matters. Shouldn’t President Obama, in his role as Commander-in-Chief, address the threats represented by Daesh?
Yes, he should. However, The Constitution is full of brilliant checks and balances between the three branches of government, and one such system of checks and balances is between the Legislative and Executive branches when it comes to waging war. In short, when the President as the Head of State determines that a threat to our national security and/or interests exists that warrants the use of military force, it is his responsibility to request authorization from Congress to use that force. It is then Congress’ responsibility to evaluate the request, debate it, to authorize such force, and to initiate legislation to authorize expenditures to support the war. Finally, the President, in his role as Commander-in-Chief and under authorization from Congress, executes the war.
Of course, some time-critical events especially in this era of rapid decision cycles preclude the President from seeking such authorization; yet even in these situations, it is the President’s legal responsibility (under the War Powers Resolution, 50 USC 1541-1548) to inform Congress within 48 hours and to gain authorization for continued military operations.
In the absence of such authorization, whether pre-emptive or reactive, the President must withdraw all forces within 90 days.
Again, you may ask why it is important for these laws to be followed. I present three reasons.
First, we are a nation of laws. That is the definition of a republic. If we allow our leaders to ignore those laws, we risk either anarchy or dictatorship.
Second, by not holding our elected representatives to the clearly-defined requirements of The Constitution and applicable laws, we have created a vicious cycle of continuous and indiscriminate war. In the past 25 years since our 1991 war in Iraq and Kuwait, we have committed combat forces to a dizzying number of places around the globe: Zaire, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Somalia, Macedonia, Haiti, Liberia, Central African Republic, Albania, Congo, Gabon, Cambodia, Guinea-Bassau, Kenya, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Sudan, East Timor, Serbia, Kosovo, Nigeria, Yemen, Cote d’Ivoire, Georgia, Djibouti, Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, Uganda, Jordan, Chad, Mali, Syria, and so many other places not even known, as well as the seas between them and the air and space above. Most of these wars have been unauthorized, and with each of them, the ability of the President to commit our forces unilaterally, without any checking or balancing of his powers, has become easier and more frequent. Our national security strategy, once a robust combination of diplomacy, information, military, and economy, has become one of “just do something…anything,” in which we believe any problem can be solved with a sprinkling of drones, bombs, or boots. We simply cannot sustain this accelerating expenditure of blood and treasure.
Third, our aversion to making the tough decisions either to declare (or at least authorize) wars or not has led to an increasingly-wide gulf between our military at war and our populace at peace. Without any requirement to convince Congress to support our wars, the President has not had to express his reasons or strategy to the nation. The absence of such communication, combined with our habit of spending ethereal borrowed money on military operations and the consequential expenses, allows the wars to continue without any sacrifice in the form of taxation or program cuts. The citizenry thus remains blissfully insulated, ignorant, and detached from the sacrifices made by our forces. And the ultimate consequences of this include an angst and bitterness in our returning combat veterans, directly contributing to their obscene rate of PTSD and even suicide.
For this reason, I have been urging Congress to declare our illegal wars in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. Often, this endeavor has felt as if I am tilting at windmills, and I must confess to having gained little traction, or even an audience, with either my Representative (Annie Kuster) or senior Senator (Jeanne Shaheen). I have had some interaction and discussion with Senator Kelly Ayotte and her staff, but despite the pro-military credentials she trumpets, and some promises to visit the subject, she has not taken action.
“The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful…this Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power… allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.” – Sen Kaine (D-VA)
In the words of Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), “The silence of Congress in the midst of this war is cowardly and shameful…this Congress, the very body that is so quick to argue against President Obama’s use of executive power… allows an executive war to go on undeclared, unapproved, undefined and unchecked.”
But perhaps, if you and others join me in this Quixotic venture, we might begin to make enough noise that would cause our Congress and President to act. So, I am asking you to do so, to spread this message, and to hold your representatives’ feet to the flame. I’d also appreciate any ideas you may have in ways we can do this. Feel free to contact me, or post your thoughts below.
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[Note: The speech above was given in 2013 to an event honoring Gold Star families in New Hampshire while I was still on active duty]
Thank you Gold Star families, for your sacrifice, the sacrifice that so few understand or comprehend.
And let’s thank God for blessing us with the gift of heroes, who have risked all and given all in the service of this country and its blessings, which themselves are a blessing from God.
In the news we are hearing talk about some nonsense that military members are not allowed to speak on matters of faith.
I’m thankful that the Pentagon has clarified this, that there is a difference between forced proselytizing – trying to coerce someone into accepting your religion – and honest dialogue or even evangelism.
It is impossible for anyone, and definitely impossible for me, to speak honestly from the heart and NOT express one’s faith in the process. That’s true whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Budhist, a Confucian, an agnostic or an atheist. If you speak what you believe to be true, isn’t that speaking about your faith?
And if you refuse to speak about what you believe to be true, what would we call that?
In fact, like the heroes no longer with us, I was required to memorize the Code of Conduct of the United States Fighting Force, a code to which I am legally bound, which starts with:
I am an American, fighting in the forces which defend my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.
And closes thus:
I will never forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my GOD and in the United States of America.
And I want to speak in truth and honesty to you today, and because of that, I’m going to have bring my faith into it. Perhaps that is because the value of sacrifice is so central to my faith.
And as you know all too well, it is our Gold Star families who define sacrifice in the world today.
Your loved ones took that Code of Conduct to its ultimate end, giving their lives in the defense of their country and our way of life. When the trumpet called, they answered. When the attack came, they advanced to the sound of gunfire. When all hell broke loose, they were there to put it back in shackles. And in the end, they gave their lives so that others might live.
And for that, we honor them. And we honor you also, the families of these warriors, who have sacrificed so much.
In fact, in my faith, it is Abraham, not Isaac, who is remembered as the honored for his sacrifice. Because he was willing to put his beloved son on the altar.
And in my faith, I believe that God chose to use sacrifice as defining aspect of His character, so much so that He sacrificed His own Son to be tortured and hung on a cross so that we could be reconciled to Him. He gave up his best to be killed for a world that didn’t deserve it, a world where many continue to fail to appreciate that sacrifice.
And that aspect of His character, the character of the God I serve, is what I see in you, the Gold Star families here today.
Because sacrifice is what military families have done and continue to do every day.
Because in a time where the military has gone to war while America has gone to the mall, a time where some have given all while most have neither been asked, nor volunteered to sacrifice more than putting a “support the troops” magnet on their trunk, you have sacrificed dearly.
Because while we in the military serve. You sacrifice.
We strap on a jet, or shoulder a ruck and rifle, or sail on a ship, or do a thousand other things that we are called to do as not only our duty but our passion. That is service.
But what YOU do and have done is sacrifice.
Military families sacrifice every time their loved one walks out the door.
…every time a ship sails.
…every time an aircraft takes off.
…every time your loved one says, “I have to go.”
…every time you say goodbye, whether in person, or on the phone, or on Skype.
…every time a staff car drives into the neighborhood and you say, “Please, don’t stop here.”
…every time a notification team walks up to a door.
…and in the days, months, and years afterwards, our Gold Star families continue to bear the burden of that sacrifice.
We serve. You have sacrificed. And in a country that sometimes seems not to understand or value that sacrifice deeply enough, we are here today to honor you.
To tell you that when the honor guardsman handed you that folded flag and said, “On behalf of a grateful nation,” those words were not empty.
To tell you that though some are too caught up in their own selfish needs and pursuits, that we honor your loved ones who gave all in service to things so much greater than themselves, and that we honor you, not just for allowing them to serve, but raising them, growing them, encouraging them, and molding them into the brave men and women they were, driven to serve things greater than themselves.
To tell you that, in the words of Hub McCann, there are some things worth believing in. “…That honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil… that love… true love never dies.”
To remind ourselves that just as your sacrifice continues every day, our support for you needs to continue every day. Whether that support is s phone call, or stopping by to watch the kids, to bring a meal, help with an errand, or to pray, or just to stop and sit with you.
As I prepared to talk to you today, I reached out to Gold Star families I know personally, and I want to pass along words from two amazing women, whose husbands died in service to our country.
Tami, whose husband Dee died last year in Southwest Asia, asked me to pass this to you, our Gold Star families:
You are as much a hero as your loved one lost. Know that it may seem that people forget. In general when events like this happen the people around you get to choose how much they are going to allow the event to affect them–you don’t get to choose. Know in your heart that everything that happened matters–your loved one matters (not mattered)…You are not alone! You have good friends (some whose relationship blossoms after the event), you have family (though you will see that the relationship with your family has changed too), but most of all you have people who are on the same walk as you. Embrace those who have been there–use their support and tell them your darkest thoughts that you need to get out. These are the people who have thought that too and can tell you how they have gotten through it. Know that God is good and choosing JOY is a difficult decision (usually the more difficult one) but it is worth it.
Leigh, who lost her husband Nick over three years ago added this:
Also, know that you are not alone in this. There are many that are walking the same journey as you, and we are for you, to encourage you and let you know it will be okay…because it will. I have walked this journey for 3 1/2 years with two very young children. It’s not always easy, but God has truly blessed our lives and has been amazing in his provisions for our “new” life.
And to those of us who support Gold Star families, they both asked us to remember that the sacrifice continues well past the time that most of the immediate assistance ends. Take the time to reach out, whether they are next door or across the country. Remember that, though wounds heal over time, the loss remains.
Nick and Dee were good friends of mine, warriors like your loved ones who chose to serve in one of the most challenging times of our nation’s history. Like your loved ones, they lived the code and never gave up the faith, and we owe it to them never to give up our support for you, and our honor both for their lives and your sacrifice.
I’d like to close with words from a much greater leader than me to a mother who lost her sons in war. His words are more eloquent, and his burden of leadership greater than any I have carried.
“I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
May God hold you in His comforting hands
May God spur us into action to support you
And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
Note: The speech above was given in 2013 to an event honoring Gold Star families in New Hampshire while I was still on active duty.
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The vast majority of US politicians, even those who are most vehement in their demands for “separation of church and state,” end their speeches with the words, “God Bless America.”
Indeed, God has blessed us. Our founders were explicit in their recognition of God’s abundant blessings on this land, His graceful endowment of certain inalienable rights, and His establishment of government for the express purpose of securing them.
Later, in our Constitution, our founders would further this ideal, stating that the union must secure these blessings, not only for themselves, but for their posterity – those who would follow. Us.
And so we, their posterity, must address security in that sense – one that seeks not to preserve comforts or riches, but instead to protect the rights granted to all mankind. “Stewardship” of the blessing of liberty, if you will, because a chief function of a people created to honor and glorify our Creator, is to be good stewards of His gifts. And I believe one of those gifts exists in the form of our military and its men and women.
We are not being good stewards.
Even as DESERT SHIELD and later DESERT STORM were beginning what would become twenty-five years of continuous combat operations by our nations’ military, with no forseeable end in the near future, our military began suffering cuts of manpower, equipment, supplies, and training.
This hollowing accelerated under President Clinton, to the point that as terrorists were planning to attack us on September 11th, 2001, we had reduced our military’s size by over 30%, and even after increasing our forces slightly during the War on Terror, we have again begun the decline.
This might have been acceptable had we decreased our military’s mission proportionately. Yet, we did the opposite, adding operations not only in Iraq and Kuwait, but Zaire, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Somalia, Macedonia, Haiti, Liberia, Central African Republic, Albania, Congo, Gabon, Cambodia, Guinea-Bassau, Kenya, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Sudan, East Timor, Serbia, Kosovo, Nigeria, Yemen, Cote d’Ivoire, Georgia, Djibouti, Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, Uganda, Jordan, Chad, Mali, Syria, and so many other places not even known, as well as the seas between them and the air and space above.
This has stressed our military to its breaking point. With our active forces stretched thin, and our reserves not only committed, but overcommitted, it is no longer possible to allow units to redeploy, replenish, and reconstitute between deployments. Multiple deployments in a career are the standard, and eight or more extended combat tours are common. Military families have become the sacrificial lamb for the idols of our comfort and ambition, and each day, 22 veterans who the enemy couldn’t kill on the battlefield are killing themselves.
This is a grave threat to our national security indeed.
There are many who can and will address this threat eloquently and expertly – more eloquently and expertly than can I. But I’d like to address another related threat that I believe is just as dangerous to our military and to our nation’s security as the physical hollowing of the force. It is the spiritual and moral hollowing of our force.
This threat is not new. In fact, at the very birth of our nation, with our young Continental forces fresh from early victories in Boston and Fort Moultrie, and encouraged by the recent creation of the Declaration of Independence, General Washington saw a problem in his Army.
On August 3rd, 1776, certainly the General was concerned with the lack of manpower, equipment, supplies, and training. But what drove him to write a general order that day, to be broadcast to the entire army, were offenses against the spiritual and moral foundations. Not only did he believe those offenses to be prejudicial to good order and discipline, but in his words:
“…we can have little hopes of the blessing of Heaven on our Arms, if we insult it by our impiety, and folly”
Despite the misguided and misinformed messages from some today that demand our military and its leaders be amoral and aspiritual, General Washington knew then what is true now: That a force without a firm spiritual and moral foundation would be doomed to failure, or even worse, destined for success in which it would become an easy pawn of tyranny rather than a champion of liberty.
You see, though troops, arms, equipment, supplies, logistics, training, and other assets are the flesh, the organs, the muscles and sinew of a military, the moral and spiritual foundation provide its skeleton and its direction. And without that structure, without that direction, the force cannot be one for good.
In fact, General Washington believed the moral and spiritual foundations to be so important that years before, as a Colonel in the Virginia Regiment, he had championed and won the institution of a professional chaplaincy, a force multiplier he brought with him to the Continental Army, and one which has survived, despite terrible assaults in recent years, to today.
The Continental Congress agreed with him, and later passed a resolution stating:
“Whereas true religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness…
…Resolved, That all officers in the Army of the United States be, and hereby are strictly enjoined, to see that the good and wholesome rules provided for the discountenancing of profaneness and vice, and the preservation of morals among the soldiers are duly and punctually observed.” – Continental Congress, 12 Oct 1778
Now, let’s be honest. I’m a retired fighter pilot. I’ve spent many an hour in squadron bars, officer’s clubs, and other locales home and abroad. I’m not about to tell you that the military is or ever has been free of profaneness or vice.
But because of its spiritual and moral foundations, foundations that start with a person’s first oath of enlistment, ending with the prayer “So help me God,” the military has had at its core a strength to rein in those who stray from its moral compass. Good order and discipline is ineffective without a definition of “good.”
Yet today, we attempt to emasculate our chaplaincy, doing our best to forbid them from practicing their faith or even forcing them to act against it. We attempt to muzzle our military leaders, telling them – wrongly – that public profession of faith is somehow unconstitutional.
If it were unconstitutional for an official to do so, by the way, where were the cries of our founders to silence our first President when he proclaimed publicly,
“it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor”
Why did the founders not shout down Thomas Jefferson, the oft-quoted genesis of the “Separation of Church and State” doctrine, when he said?
“The practice of morality being necessary for the well-being of society, [our Creator] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1809
[I consider] ethics; as well as religion, as supplements to the law in the government of man.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1824
Years later, where was the public outcry when General Eisenhower finished his address to the troops on D-Day, with:
“…let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
Not only is it not unconstitutional for our leaders, civilian and military, to speak from their faith… it is unconscionable for them not to!
Because when the spiritual and moral foundation of our military is attacked and allowed to crumble, the consequences are grave. We see those consequences on the battlefield, we see them in garrison, and we see them at home. And many who have worked so hard to remove any reference to the moral, to the boundaries between right and wrong, are the loudest voices when those boundaries are crossed.
This is the spiritual and moral hollowing of our force.
We see it today when the perverse and profane are lauded, while the noble and virtuous are derided.
When a convicted traitor is provided access to gender change therapy while combat veterans are denied basic healthcare.
When our military profits from sales of pornography in its exchanges, but removes bibles from Navy Lodges.
When military personnel in uniform are encouraged to march at a Gay Pride parade, but prohibited from helping the Boy Scouts.
When our leaders move to provide abortions through military hospitals and healthcare insurance, while reducing promised benefits to military retirees.
When we add more wars onto the shoulders of our armed forces – in Libya, Syria, Northern Iraq, and elsewhere – without having the integrity to follow Constitutional process, and then prosecute our troops when they rightly assert their Constitutional rights.
When fourteen Americans including an unborn baby are killed, and thirty others wounded by a lone terrorist in a room full of soldiers we have unarmed, and we continue to say it is wrong to allow our men and women in uniform to be armed on post.
When another terrorist kills four US Marines and a Sailor, again on our own soil, and we again say it is wrong to allow our men and women in uniform to be armed.
These are symptoms of the spiritual and moral hollowing of our force. And as true today as it was in 1776, if we allow it to continue, our military will either be doomed to fail, or, if it succeeds, it will become a force for despotism rather than liberty.
Now, as a former commander, I will tell you that the worst thing you can do to a leader is to present a problem without a solution.
So here is my solution.
It’s not easy.
Those of you still in military service: Uphold your oath. Know the Constitution you have sworn to support and defend. Learn the basics of Constitutional law. Know the difference between expression and insubordination, between free exercise and establishment. And then execute. Do what is right. Live your faith. Do what is honoring to your oath, and to the God you asked to help you uphold it. Do not waver.
To those of you who are in political office, or aspire to such, including those presidential candidates here today, I say the same. Be willing to sacrifice your political careers for what is right. Be humble before your God. Fight for what is right. Fight for the troops. Never, ever submit to the most dangerous lie of politics and leadership: That if you avoid doing what is right today, you’ll have a chance to do greater good tomorrow.
To the rest of us. Those who provide powers to the government through our consent as the governed: Be involved. Be present. When necessary, be loud. Very loud. Be known at your elected representatives’ local offices. Pray for them. When they do right, encourage them. When they waiver, bolster them. When they fail, take them to task and remove them from office.
And to all of us: Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
And let us all pray that we would turn away from the impiety and folly that insults our God, so that we can again ask his blessings on our endeavors. And may God then bless our troops, our leaders, and the United States of America.
[Note: This post is from an article I wrote two years ago which seems to resonate with today’s events, especially as we look into the new year.]
The country is in crisis.
The long and bitter war against a foreign enemy might not be the most severe peril facing the Americans. Just as dangerous, and perhaps more so, is the sharp divide between factions within a disorganized domestic government.
Individual, corporate, cultural, religious, and regional agendas threaten to destroy ambitious hopes for an independent and prosperous nation, one blessed beyond compare with natural and human resources. Politicians play to special interests, many more interested in how they can pad their own coffers and power base than the good of the people of their constituencies or the nation itself.
The citizenry is similarly divided, ideological disputes going beyond discussions and debates to the point that they often dissolve into violence. Distrust for government and authority is at an all-time high.
The enemies of America laugh at it, and many suggest the country will collapse on itself.
Hope dissolves. Despair grows.
Yet 15 years later, the United States of America would emerge from these crises under bold leadership with an innovative and unique constitutionally-based government. Over the next two centuries, she would rise to become the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation. How did this happen, and what lessons from that history can we apply to today, where our nation faces such similar challenges?
The first element was the presence of those bold leaders. People with vision, moral courage, and often bravery in the face of death. Leaders, not just in Philadelphia and then Washington DC, but even more importantly, leaders at the regional, state, city, neighborhood and family levels who didn’t give up their own needs and desires completely, but because of that vision, moral courage, and bravery were willing to strive for the greater good of a nation built upon godly principles.
Second, those bold leaders were able to mold the mob into a team. They did this by convincing the people that, despite whatever the competing agendas of diverse states and localities might be, the consequences of remaining divided while facing a foe as powerful as were the combined economic, military, and industrial powers of Great Britain were too great. And so these differences were laid aside to some measure, at least for the time, and the people rallied in common purpose.
This combination of bold leadership with a bold message that was the precise formula needed in 1775 was repeated time and again in our nation’s history. Whether it was the war that threatened to tear our country apart from within, two wars that threatened the stability of the entire world, a Depression that threatened our economic survival, or nuclear brinksmanship that threatened the world’s very existence, bold leaders with bold visions rallied our nation to victory.
This is the same medicine our country needs for the challenges we face today: both our external perils and our internal divisions.
Our leaders must both understand our ills and propose ambitious cures, but it is even more critical that they be able to inspire and encourage. Hope, not blame. Vision, not derision.
Finally, our leaders must do this with realistic optimism, not cynical pessimism. Because this is the United States of America, still blessed by our Creator beyond compare with physical and human resources. And if we are willing both to acknowledge those blessings and to rise to the responsibilities that those blessings merit, we will emerge from these challenges just as strongly today as we have in the past.