Obama and Kerry struck a deal with the Afghani government to keep US troops in Afghanistan until sometime beyond 2014 last month. There is a slight possibility that the deal won’t actually go through, but it’s looking like it probably will. It seems like a good idea for us to maintain a small ground presence in Afghanistan, but the article cited above indicates that we’ll probably keep roughly 8000 troops in the country, which seems a bit excessive. Luckily the government of Afghanistan seems largely okay with the action, so it shouldn’t be detrimental to our relationship with the country’s government. And it seems like we’ll be using our forces to mostly fend off Al Qaeda and train the Afghani National Forces, which hopefully means the troops will be focused on more defensive actions than offensive actions. While it seems like 8000 troops is a bit excessive, it seems like an overall good thing for the US to keep some troops in Afghanistan for the next year.
I have posted numerous times on this blog about how the president has almost unlimited power and how it needs to be reigned in. I still think this is true. However, there are a few ways that other actors (Congress is particular) can check the president’s ability to wage unlimited warfare. This article discusses a few of them. In particular, it focuses on the timeline for withdrawal, the War Powers Resolution, and the power of the purse.
The timeline is Congress’ ability to force the president to withdraw troops after a certain amount of time. The most recent example of this occurring, as indicated in the article, was in 1983 when Congress put an 18 month limitation on Reagan’s ability to put troops in Lebanon. This didn’t really end up mattering much though, as a bombing occurred two weeks after we posted troops in the region, and the president withdrew the troops.
The War Powers Resolution was passed in 1973 and had the same effect as the timeline discussed above, except with a shorter time for troops to be put into battle. It limited the president to being able to put troops in combat to 60-90 days without Congressional authorization. However, it hasn’t really ever been put into effect (the article cites one instance of it actually being used), due to concerns about its constitutionality. No Congress wants that political backlash to fall on them.
Finally, Congress has the power of the purse. With this, Congress could cut the funding of the military by a significant amount in order to limit the president from fighting war fare. Even so, this only theoretically limits the president– it doesn’t create an actual restriction on the president’s ability to wage war fare.
An important to thing to realize is that all of the limitations discussed were intended to limit the president’s ability to send troops into war. These discussions don’t check wiretapping programs, indefinite detention, drones, or anything else that’s really low-cost and doesn’t require ground troops. Therefore, while there are some limitations, there are nowhere near enough.