From 2010 through 2013, my family and I were stationed in South Korea. In November 2010, ten months into our tour, North Korea launched an artillery attack on a South Korean island, an attack that claimed the lives of four South Koreans, injured many more, and resulted in widespread damage. A direct attack, the incident was considered one of the most dangerous provocations since the armistice that had ended the Korean War. In the months that followed, carefully scripted responses steadied the situation. But for someone who had served in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the incident brought home to me what it’s like to have the possibility of war that directly impacts your family.
North Korea has in recent years made dangerous progress toward developing the capacity to strike the mainland United States with a nuclear weapon. This is unacceptable, and the situation is likely to grow more tense. In these times of danger, the temptation is to look to the President -- any President -- for unilateral leadership. However, North Korea's provocations notwithstanding, our Framers intended Congress, not the President, to make determinations of war and peace
Many members of Congress -- including our own Representative Comstock -- have abdicated their responsibilities in this regard. Members of both parties have called for the reining in of an over-reaching executive, but Congresswoman Comstock has repeatedly indicated that she sees no need for Congress to have any input into the President’s decision to strike targets in Syria or elsewhere. This disengagement is irresponsible and dangerous. The Constitution -- while giving the President the authority to act quickly to protect the country -- reserves exclusively to Congress the right to make war. Moreover, the War Powers Act of 1973 specifically restricts the President’s ability to make war without consulting Congress to a period of sixty days.
The U.S. is currently involved, with varying degrees of intensity, in conflicts in at least half a dozen countries, but the “authorization” for these engagements is sixteen years old. In the intervening decade and a half, the nature of the fight -- not to mention the enemy itself -- has changed, but the legal justification for our operations has not. The Constitution and common sense demand that Congress endorse and provide oversight of, or else reject outright, this vast and ongoing expenditure of blood and treasure.
The situation with North Korea is already dangerous and complex, but a war with North Korea would be catastrophic. Such a conflict could lead to millions of deaths and could land, right here, on our own shores. Fortunately, we have time, now, to have real conversations about America’s goals and options in North Korea, and we owe it to ourselves to have them.
It is time for Congresswoman Comstock to do her duty and demand, first, that Congress approve any military strike in North Korea; and, second, that the President cease undertaking unauthorized military operations abroad. It is time, furthermore, to put an end altogether to the authorization of open-ended, vaguely-defined, and insufficiently-supervised uses of force.