General principles on military intervention

Despite being falsely accused of being a big supporter of “foreign wars,” I am actually a non-interventionist. This is not the same as being an isolationist – I am in favor of free trade and diplomacy. But I am generally hesitant to support military intervention. I have even been to an anti-war protest. So what are the principles we should follow in deciding whether we should engage in armed conflict?

First, let’s get this out of the way, in anticipation of the inevitable charges of hypocrisy and dishonesty: Yes, I supported “Operation Iraqi Freedom” in 2003, in the months leading up to it and for five years afterward. After thinking about it a lot, I changed my position on the war in March of 2008. I have have held for 11 years that the war was a mistake, but I do believe many people who supported it did so in good faith.

With that said, I hope people on the Right and Left can agree that we have been far too willing to engage militarily, especially over the last 50 years. We have had small operation after small operation, with some big ones thrown in. We have lost many lives, and what we have gained for that sacrifice has been questionable.

Principle #1: The military should only be used in the case of a direct attack on these United States or her allies, or an imminent direct threat to our national security. The first principle is easily defined and understandable. The second principle is more murky and open to interpretation, which is unavoidable, but we must have the option to launch a “first strike” to defend our nation and her people.

Principle #2: War should be the last resort. We should do everything in our power to resolve a dispute short of armed conflict, including diplomatic relations, economic sanctions and other means as necessary. I can think of few cases where war truly was the last resort. Can a hostile regime that represents a threat be contained? Can they be engaged?

So what specific policy can be put in place? The President has far too much authority to start a military engagement without the consent of Congress, and that needs to be restricted. Presidents have consistently held that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional, so it is probably necessary for a constitutional amendment clarifying the Commander-in-Chief’s war-making authority. The founders did not envision that we would be a global superpower within 150 years of our founding, and if they had I believe the Constitution would have been more explicit on this matter. Let’s fix that.

It is good that Donald Trump, for all of his silly posturing about being a “tough guy,” has a general skepticism about military adventurism. We should ask for more of that. There are plenty of people on both the Right and Left who share that skepticism, and we need to elevate those people to Congress. We need to elect people to Congress who will be jealous of their own authority, especially on matters of war.

The grassroots needs to hold our own elected officials accountable for increasingly supporting unnecessary armed conflict. This is an area where both “peacenik” liberals and libertarian-leaning conservatives can agree, and a bipartisan consensus will be necessary to make real change in policy.

Do we have the political will to do that? I hope so.