Too often, we as members of Congress go about our lives disconnected from the reality of the sacrifices our service members and their families make every day to protect our republic and way of life. Yesterday, we were confronted with distressing images of thousands of national guardsmen sleeping on the cold cement floor of the Senate’s underground parking garage with scant resources — as one report put it, with a single bathroom and a single power outlet. This wasn’t a forward operating base in the Afghan mountains; it was in the heart of our nation’s capital. Many of us are rightfully outraged and want answers about what led to this decision.
But while this treatment of American troops by Congress is rightly jarring, it cannot be that surprising. Rather, it is typical of how Congress has been treating America’s troops for over a decade, and this outrage should serve as a sobering wake-up call for us in Congress to finally do our constitutional duty to debate where we send them.
This September will mark the 20th anniversary of Congress passing the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that granted the president authority to go after “those 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.” Shortly after, Congress passed the 2002 AUMF, which authorized forces to go after Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. We have been at war in countries all over the world ever since.
The men and women who have deployed under these AUMFs have fought and died around the globe to protect our way of life. They have taken down down terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden, removed the Taliban from power, and kept attacks away from American soil. We, as their fellow citizens, owe them an immense debt for that. Unfortunately, the legal mechanism under which we have sent them forward has been abused well beyond its intended scope and has served as the justification to deploy thousands of troops to over a dozen countries for nearly two decades without so much as a second thought in Congress — much less an earnest debate.
In this respect, Congress has failed but our troops and our founders. Over the course of time, we have stood idly and given away our carefully crafted Article 1 War Powers to the executive branch.
This has already gone on far too long, and it should not continue any farther.
When we call on our fellow citizens in uniform to go and risk their lives, it is our obligation to give them the tools necessary to carry out their mission. The outrage about how troops are being treated at the Capitol is as right as right can be. But where is the outrage over the service members who are on their 8th, 9th, and even 12th deployment sleeping in the cold and away from their families for months on end? Where is the outrage over the new generation of soldiers who are enlisting to fight in a war that began before they were born?
As abhorrent as the former is, it cannot be seen as surprising in context of the latter.
The outrage we feel over this most-recent treatment of our national guardsmen should spur all of us to act — not only to right immediate wrongs, but systemic ones. It is time for Congress to come together, debate, and vote on a 2021 relevant AUMF. As we face growing threats from foes such as Russia and China, it is more important than ever for Congress to give our troops a clear and updated mission.
Our fellow citizens in uniform are doing their job to protect us despite challenging circumstances. It is time we did ours. The constitution demands it, and our men and women in uniform deserve it.
Chip Roy represents Texas’s 21st Congressional District in the U.S. House.