Why Is Congress Mute On Afghanistan?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Tommy Sowers Candidate for Congress in Missouri’s 8th Congressional district

Within the next few days the President will announce his decision about the the strategy America will pursue in Afghanistan. However, the actor intended by the founders to be the lead and be loud in questions of war -- the United States Congress -- has and continues to remain almost entirely silent. Article I of our Constitution states that Congress is given enumerated powers to speak loudly over questions of war.

Our founders did not intend for central questions of war to be discussed behind closed doors, within private meetings of envoys, ambassadors, generals and the executive, but in the halls of Congress. The father of the Constitution, James Madison stated, "In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause that confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department." And the unanswered question for Afghanistan is not one of troop levels, but of the first principle of war--the objective.

The U.S. Army's Field Manual 3-0 states, "every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective." Denial of sanctuary to Al Qaeda, protecting the Afghan people, building Afghan security forces -- our nation cannot accomplish any of these objectives on the cheap. Achieving these objectives would require a generational commitment of billions, a substantial and permanent growth of the military, and sacrifice of our options elsewhere through a commitment of blood and treasure in Afghanistan -- all tasks given to the Congress in the Constitution.

These objectives must be debated in Congress, not left to the executive. Madison warned, "Those who are to conduct a war cannot in the nature of things, be proper or safe judges whether a war ought to be commenced, continued or concluded."

With all the issues facing the current Congress, a Congress with the lowest number of veterans since WWII, some may say that these decisions are best left behind closed doors between the commander-in-chief, his envoys and his troops. Many believe Congress is too busy, too partisan, or too focused on issues that will perpetuate their own reelection.

A debate in Congress on objectives in Afghanistan would be open, perhaps ugly, with compromises and politics at play. Yet the definition of objectives, especially when they involve questions of war and peace, is not a question of style or convenience but one of duty so that our voice, through Congress, could be heard loud and clear.

Eight years in, we deserve more than another executive debate of resources behind closed doors. We deserve a Congress willing to do their constitutional duty -- define an objective or bring our troops home.

Tommy Sowers is a former Green Beret and Assistant Professor of American Politics, Policy and Strategy at the United States Military Academy. He now lectures at the Missouri University of Science and Technology and is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Missouri's 8th Congressional district.