Jun 28 2019
When the Founding Fathers declared Independence from England, they understood that providing for the common defense was one of our government’s most important duties. But they also knew from experience under British rule that that bad things happen, especially at the national level, when too few people exercise too much power – especially in matters of war.
So instead of placing this power in the hands of one man where it could be used to unilaterally declare war, the Founders placed it in Congress.
They intended that these most grave decisions – decisions that put American resources and lives on the line – be debated with the utmost care and consideration, by the people’s elected, accountable representatives.
Unfortunately, in recent years Congress has largely been neglecting its duty of actively – and responsibly – authorizing and overseeing our military engagements.
Take the Oversees Operations Contingency, or OCO, account.
While Congress used to budget for emergency supplemental funding for war time emergencies each year, after the September 11th attacks, something changed.
The Bush administration created a fund called the “Global War on Terrorism” account… separate from the base budget. Congress began to rely on this fund year after year for military spending, primarily for operations in the Middle East; and year after year, if failed to integrate it into the baseline budget.
When the Obama administration took over, they changed the name from GWOT to the “Overseas Contingency Operations”, or OCO, and also requested OCO that it be exempted from the defense spending limits set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
And the practice has continued to this day. OCO has morphed into an unaccountable slush fund for the Pentagon – insulated from scrutiny and unchecked by budget caps. Since 2001, Congress has appropriated about $2 trillion dollars in total for these funds, accounting for 17% of defense spending in that time… with each dollar adding to our rising debt.
Furthermore, these dollars have largely been going to dubious nation-building investments that lack an overall strategy and have no end in sight.
We’ve now been in Afghanistan for 18 years, and in Iraq for 16 years. We have deposed Saddam Hussein, and we’ve killed Osama bin Laden.
We have accomplished much of what we set out to do… but we’ve also been pulled into nation-building thousands of miles away, causing serious harm to those countries and our own credibility in the process.
Unfortunately, this year’s National Defense Authorization Act maintains the broken status quo for OCO – authorizing another $75 billion dollars – and perpetuates the misguided strategy we’ve been undertaking in the Middle East since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It continues funding – in dollars, weapons, and people – missions that have no clear end goal, for problems that were never ours in the first place.
For example, it authorizes almost $5 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund. And it calls for a stabilization strategy in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya.
And worse still, Congress never even authorized some of these military engagements in four out of six of these countries in the first place.
This is not responsible budgeting, oversight, strategy, or governance – which is why I voted no on this bill this week.
What we ought to be doing is drawing down our OCO account and integrating this spending into our baseline budget.
And we ought to be actively preparing a strategy that phases out our engagement in the Middle East, instead of perpetuating these indefinite, inefficient, and unauthorized wars.
It’s about time that Congress lived up to its Constitutional duty of once again responsibly budgeting and strategizing to protect the American people. And it’s about time that we live up to the spirit of our founders’ Declaration of Independence and once again give them a say in these matters.