Democratic and Republican administrations have done it. Presidents with allegedly different philosophies have done it. They have started unnecessary wars, largely to enhance their own administrations and the consequent opportunities to use wartime powers.
Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were instrumental in beginning and continuing the Vietnam War, a war for which the former secretary of defense, McNamara, apologized late in his career. The evidence for that war was dubious, and the seriousness of the Tonkin Bay incident has since been debated by historians.
George W. Bush and then-Secretary of Defense Colin Powell fabricated evidence about weapons of mass destruction to justify the Iraq invasion and extensive war. International observers denounced the purported evidence, having personally monitored the country. President Bush made it clear he had the opportunity to be a wartime president, inciting a war that both conservative and liberal commentators now consider one of the worst state decisions in the history of the United States.
At present we see our administration under Donald Trump presenting dubious evidence against Iran, possibly leading to another extended “foreign entanglement” against which he consistently campaigned. President Trump individually voided the Iran nuclear deal, which international allies and official observers verify was being honored by Iran. The president’s claims were challenged by members of both political parties and our allies.
President Eisenhower warned our country about the “military industrial complex” which recognizes extraordinarily lucrative motivations for war. “Defense” contractors are among some of the largest corporations in our society that profit enormously from military conflict. Further, many senators’ and congressmen’s careers benefit from the large contracts to suppliers in their states.
According to multiple sources the United States alone spends 37% of the total amount of money expended for military purposes in the entire world. Our military budget dwarfs all of our major competitors. Yet, our president continues to expound the terrible condition of our military and the need to develop greater “defensive” capability. Occasionally in recent years our budgeted expenditure to the military has exceeded the requests by the Pentagon.
Surely the American public can recognize the dangers in naively supporting a dubious call to war. Our Congress is technically the only branch of government with constitutional authority to declare war, yet we have entered into wars repeatedly since the last congressional declaration of World War II. Since 1942 presidents have claimed from congress the “authorization to use military force.” Perhaps it is time for congress to demonstrate its courage and resume its constitutional responsibility, but it is surely time for American citizens to resist the incredible costs of war to human lives, our national budgets, taxes and reputation. In tweets in 2011 and 2012 Donald Trump repeatedly accused President Obama of seeking and using a war with Iran in order to get re-elected. We have been warned.
Steve Watson lives in Harrisonburg.