This weekend towns will throw parades, friends and family will visit cemeteries, and communities will reconnect at barbecues, swimming pools, and football games to inaugurate the summer.
During these festivities I ask that you take a moment to pause. For one minute, reflect and remember.
Give remembrance to 1.4 million American combat deaths, stretching from the Revolutionary War to today. In particular, consider the 7,057 uniformed men and women who have been killed in the ongoing Global War on Terror.
They’re numbers not mentioned often enough by our politicians. But I promise you they’re numbers that regularly weigh on the minds of the veterans in your life.
For many civilians, Memorial Day and Veterans Day are interchangeable. I’m sure today I’ll have people come up to me, shake my hand, and say “Thank you for your service.”
I’d like to tell them that today isn’t for me. I’m still here, living my best life with my beautiful family. Today is for my friends who didn’t get that happy ending.
It’s a hell of a thing to say you’re willing to die for your neighbors, your country, and a principle. To get on a plane sending you across the world, not knowing if you’ll ever set foot in your hometown again.
Earlier this year, my organization was given an exclusive interview with ret. Brigadier General John Bahnsen, one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history. “I pass pictures of guys I have hanging up here. I look at one of my books there, I knew those guys. They’re dead! They didn’t get a chance to have a kid or a grandkid. Some of them were too damn young to get married. Good lord,” he mourned.
For all the inexpressible sacrifices these men and women have given our country, don’t you think Congress ought to debate and declare the wars they’re dying in?
That’s what I’ve been working on for two years, since I founded BringOurTroopsHome.US in 2019.
This year, my team and I partnered with liberty legislators across the country to see “Defend the Guard” legislation introduced in 31 states. If passed, “Defend the Guard” would prohibit a state’s National Guard from deploying into active combat without a declaration of war by Congress, obligating the legislative branch to take control of our reckless foreign policy and become accountable to their constituents.
That in the span of one election cycle we found primary sponsors (and numerous cosponsors) in 31 states is unprecedented in political activism. Many of these legislators are veterans themselves, and they all cherish the lives and safety of our Armed Forces.
This Memorial Day, I’m more confident than ever that we’re going to do right by my fallen brothers. We’re going to restore the Constitution that they swore an oath to defend.
If you’d like to help accelerate our mission and pass “Defend the Guard” in your own state, you can support us joining the Ten Seven Club.
I hope you’ll join our growing ranks for peace. And from myself and the rest of us at BringOurTroopsHome.US, have a reverent Memorial Day.
When President Joe Biden announced a new date for the full withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, there arose like clockwork a great, melancholic moan from the same media figures who have been defending the war for the past 20 years. Perhaps none was so despondent as John Bolton, who as Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor himself abetted the delay of a prospective exit.
Minimizing the risks of continued occupation, Bolton mentions that “the last U.S. combat death occurred in February 2020.” But this is a direct result of the Trump administration’s Doha agreement and decision to negotiate a withdrawal date with the Taliban. President Biden’s four-month delay, from May 1 to September 11, may indeed imperil the safety previously assured to our soldiers. Imagine what would transpire if Bolton had his way and we actually announced another two-decade extension.
Bolton does admit there is “widespread public support for bringing the troops home”—a supermajority of Americans, including a supermajority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans, endorse President Biden’s new September withdrawal plan. Curiously, however, Bolton omits the opinion of the men and women who he wants to keep fighting his war.
Annual polling conducted by Concerned Veterans for America has found as recently as of January, 67 percent of military veterans support a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, up from 59 percent in 2019. That same year, Pew Research found that 58 percent of veterans didn’t think the war in Afghanistan was worth fighting at all.
“They are all wrong,” the former U.N. ambassador informs us.
Why do America’s soldiers so strongly disagree with John Bolton? Is it because, in his words, “the pundits tell us”? Or is it because we have walked the dirt roads of Afghanistan (dodging IEDs along the way), been under enemy fire, and witnessed firsthand the failed strategy formulated by men like him in Washington, D.C.?
Coincidentally, John Bolton and I share something in common. When our country was at war—for him, in 1970 and for me, in 2001—we both joined our state’s National Guard (Maryland and Idaho, respectively). I joined so I could fight for my county in a war I now consider a mistake. He did it in essence to avoid fighting in a war he still defended.
Unlike today, when the National Guard is regularly deployed into combat overseas, during the Vietnam War they were typically kept stateside. Instead, the military preferred to scoop up recruits using the draft lottery system. This loophole allowed college students and other up-and-coming professionals to serve in some capacity while missing the direct combat or a trek to Canada.
As an attendee at Yale, Bolton was a vociferous champion of the Vietnam War and often debated antiwar activists on campus. His convictions, however, were not enough to put his money where his eventual mustache would be. “I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy…I considered the war in Vietnam already lost,” he wrote in 1995.
When he received a draft number too close for comfort (185), Bolton describes in his 2007 memoir, he drove “from armory to armory in the Baltimore area and [signed] up on waiting lists until a slot opened up” in the National Guard. He had made the “cold calculation” that he “wasn’t going to waste time on a futile struggle” in Vietnam.
Between 1970 and 1975, when Bolton privately considered the war futile but publicly advocated its continuation, 9,500 of his less fortunate neighbors died in those blasted Southeast Asian rice paddies.
He closes his jeremiad in Foreign Policy by kicking one veteran in particular, the late senator George McGovern, who as the Democratic Party’s standard bearer in 1972 implored our nation to “Come Home, America” from needless wars like Vietnam. As a young man McGovern flew B-24s into Nazi Germany to bomb their oil refineries, performing thirty-five daytime combat missions that often had higher than 50 percent casualties. His exceptional record—which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross for landing multiple planes severely damaged by enemy flak—was detailed in “The Wild Blue,” written by popular historian Stephen Ambrose. Perhaps George McGovern learned lessons in that cockpit at 28,000 feet that were not available to John Bolton while he was studying at Yale.
You do not need to have a military record to comment on or criticize U.S. foreign policy. We are all free citizens, and we all have an equal right to voice our opinions to our government. But I feel compelled to quote that distinguished parliamentarian and man of letters Edmund Burke, who said he could not conceive of anything under Heaven “more truly odious and disgusting” than the “impotent, helpless creature… calling for battles which he is not to fight…”
John Bolton did not have to fight his battles in Vietnam or Afghanistan. And thankfully, after this September, no other American will have to either.
In summer blockbusters and other entertainment, the United States Armed Forces are almost always portrayed through the lens of their most elite units, such as the Navy SEALS or the Army Rangers. But while the special forces are heroes in their own right, they’re not the most irreplaceable piece on the board. That designation falls to the humble National Guard, the real backbone of America’s military.
I’ve served in the Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, and the Idaho National Guard. In my deployments to Afghanistan, I found the Guard to be the best trained of them all.
Numbering nearly 350,000 men and women, these citizen-soldiers — who when they’re not donating time to Uncle Sam are working full-time jobs, running businesses, attending college, and raising families — have carried more than their fair share of the burden. Since the launch of the Global War on Terror in 2001, 45 percent of deployed personnel have been National Guard units, with 57,000 Guardsmen located overseas as recently as December 2020. And the costs have been felt; 18.4 percent of the subsequent casualties have been Guard members.
For two decades of war, the National Guard has tried to live up to its motto of “Always Ready, Always There.” But the undeniable fact is that every American soldier sent to nation-build in Afghanistan or patrol the streets of Iraq is one less person who can protect and aid his fellow Americans back home.
Any policy that prioritizes the demands of foreign populations over that of Americans cannot be described as intelligent. Worse, any policy that prioritizes endless war, overseas imperialism, and war profiteering cannot be described as moral.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress (and they alone) with the power to make war on another nation. But since World War II, Congress has been content to obfuscate accountability and defer decision making to the Executive Branch, which James Madison called “the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it.”
That, unfortunately, has been the result. The United States currently has active-duty soldiers in a total of 150 nations across the globe. Our troops are operating in 65 of those nations engaged in counter-terrorism training missions; and in direct-fire combat operations in 14 countries. Meanwhile, seven countries are on the receiving end of drone strikes courtesy of the U.S. military. All without a declaration of war.
The closest imitations of a congressional war declaration are the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMFs) from 2001 and 2002, which are nothing but a blank check acquiescence to the president. There is a way, however, to strongarm an absentee Congress into reasserting its war powers, while simultaneously bringing our troops home. The answer is to “Defend the Guard.”
The brainchild of Delegate Pat McGeehan of West Virginia — who served as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer across the Middle East — and inspired by the Principles of ’98, “Defend the Guard” is state-based legislation that would prohibit National Guard units from being deployed into active combat without a declaration of war by the U.S. Congress.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 of the U.S. Constitution, known as the “Militia Clause,” permits Congress to call forth the National Guard into federal service “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” In 1990, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that National Guard units could be deployed overseas for training exercises without the consent of a state’s governor. The Justices wisely said nothing about active-duty combat deployments, knowing that such an action only falls under Congress’ purview to declare war.
“Defend the Guard” would not prevent the National Guard from deploying to other states to offer assistance, or participating in training missions overseas, or going into federal service for the reasons explicitly written in the U.S. Constitution. Its sole, narrowly defined purpose is to prevent the National Guard from being used in illegal wars and requiring that congressmen put their names on the dotted line before they ask our soldiers to put their boots on the ground.
For decades, the movement to restore Congressional war powers has run into roadblock after roadblock setup by the Beltway Blob. The fact is, outside of a handful of senators and congressmen — such as Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee, Ro Khanna, Matt Gaetz, and Thomas Massie — very few on Capitol Hill seem to care about the Constitution or their duty to our men and women in uniform. And in the rare moment Congress musters enough votes to act, they’re easily swatted away by presidential veto.
On the other hand, “Defend the Guard” bypasses the Blob altogether by decentralizing U.S. foreign policy and taking the fight directly to state legislators. These representatives are more diverse of thought, closer to their war-weary voters, and more susceptible to grassroots lobbying. This year, “Defend the Guard” bills have already been introduced in thirteen states and will be introduced in a dozen more by the end of the 2021 legislative session. Cosponsors include both Republicans and Democrats, with endorsements as varied as Vietnam War whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to Brigadier General John Bahnsen, one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. military history.
The fight has already begun. Last week, a House chairman in my home district of Idaho used chicanery to block “Defend the Guard” even though it had majority support on his committee. His local party is already preparing to censure him.
Earlier this week, I was invited to testify before the relevant committee of the South Dakota House of Representatives to advocate on behalf of a “Defend the Guard” bill. Opposite me was South Dakota’s adjutant general, the commander of the State’s National Guard and occupant of a position filled by men uniquely capable of putting the demands of Washington D.C. before the needs of their home units.
The general admitted that since 9/11, the South Dakota National Guard has been deployed continuously around the world, with only a 42-day exception. His defense was that these men and women “didn’t join the South Dakota militia to only stay here.” With respect, these patriotic Americans joined to uphold and protect the U.S. Constitution with the trust and understanding that it would be followed.
The most astonishing admission from the adjunct general was his claim that, “If this was a resolution, I’d probably be okay with it.” That is because a resolution is toothless. A resolution will do nothing to pressure the federal government or impede the profits of the military-industrial complex.
That’s why “Defend the Guard” is a threat to their imperial machinations. It’s real, actionable legislation that can curtail their ability to wage endless war by stripping them of the most important resource used to fight it. It only requires a handful of the nation’s local representatives to stand up on their hindlegs and say to the War Party and its empire, “You cannot take our Guard without first following the Constitution.”
The road to restoring war powers is through the states. And “Defend the Guard” is how we’ll do it.
The lame duck period has always been something of a dull, transitionary state in American politics. We’re more accustomed to presidents using their last moments of authority to pardon powerful friends and other unpopular favors. Contrary to these expectations, however, President Donald Trump is going into overdrive to end the longest war in American history.
In 2016, Donald Trump promised that he would bring our troops home from Afghanistan. Four years after his historic victory, 4,500 U.S. soldiers (and even more contractors) remain in Central Asia. Now, in a last-minute attempt to fulfill his promise and rebalance our obsolescent foreign policy, he has fired Secretary of Defense Mark Esper along with the Secretary’s Chief of Staff and Undersecretaries for Policy and Intelligence.
This was the swiftest attempt at draining the swamp performed by the president in his four-year term, and it’s something he should have done much sooner. Donald Trump’s greatest mistake will always be not scouring Washington, D.C., clean immediately after his election.
Even prior to his inauguration in January 2017, the national security state’s permanent bureaucracy began to sour the possibility of ending America’s forever wars in the Middle East. This subversive effort was so brazen, and so widely acknowledged, that then-anonymous Homeland Security Chief of Staff Miles Taylor felt comfortable writing in The New York Times in September 2018 “that many of the senior officials in (Trump’s) own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda.”
The latest iteration of this sabotage was revealed when James Jeffrey, the White House’s point man on Syria, admitted he and other diplomats regularly lied about how many soldiers were deployed in the Arab nation. “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there,” Jeffrey told Defense One last week. In 2019, President Trump had agreed to leave a small presence of 200 men, but according to Jeffrey there are “a lot more than” that in Northeast Syria.
For four years, we have seen a democratically elected government be undermined and disrupted by career pencil-pushers who remain unaccountable to the American voter. And why are they so opposed to the presidency of Donald Trump? It’s not because of tweets or some superficial personality flaw. It is because he is the first Commander in Chief in forty years not to initiate a war of choice.
For decades, our country has been on a permanent war-footing, engaging in numerous conflicts and regime change operations around the world. This continual foreign policy of crisis enhances the power and prestige of national security officials, while financially benefiting the military-industrial complex that pays those officials’ retirement funds.
Donald Trump was the first substantive threat to their racket in a generation. That is because he listened when the American people said they were tired of endless war. Two-thirds of our citizens consistently tell pollsters they want a full withdrawal from the Afghan quagmire, while majorities say they also want to leave Iraq and Syria.
So when Mark Esper insinuated he would not comply with orders to depart from Afghanistan, Trump gave him the boot. This is the responsible course of action when an appointed functionary refuses to obey lawful policy directives. Esper and his underlings have been replaced by individuals who realize we ought to listen to Middle America more than the CEOs of Raytheon and Boeing.
Christopher Miller has been selected as the new acting secretary of defense, and he seems more than capable of carrying out his assignment. Addressing our armed forces for the first time, Miller said, “We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, it’s time to come home.” That is a message that resonates with Americans and accomplishes what they’ve been demanding at the ballot box for years.
And to assist Secretary Miller, President Trump has appointed as his senior adviser Col. Douglas Macgregor, a Gulf War hero, the U.S. Army’s finest intellectual, and someone who has been advocating for over a decade that we must excise ourselves from the troubles of the Middle East.
As the clock ticks towards Jan. 20, Donald Trump is ready to put a stop to the shell games and restore a foreign policy demanded by working-class Americans. He’s bringing our troops home.
Dan McKnight is the chairman of BringOurTroopsHome.US, a veteran of the Afghanistan war and 13 years of service in the USMC Reserves, U.S. Army and Idaho Army National Guard. This article was originally featured at the Idaho State Journal and is republished with permission of author.
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