by Lucy Steigerwald
June 17, 2017

There are more than 8,000 troops still fighting in America’s longest war. According to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, we need about 3,000 more. The idea that 3,000 troops will change a decade and a half long stalemate seems dubious, but that’s the number Mattis suggests. Others in the administration are reportedly arguing that that number is too small.

The war in Afghanistan seems to be never-ending, but now something is a little different. The military is making the calls more directly. That’s not how it generally works. The Constitution specifies that civilians will control the armed forces. This has been laid out more overtly in subsequent legislation.

Congress is supposed to vote on war, though that only happens sometimes, and executives feel free to use drones, missiles, and Special Forces in countless countries on which the US has never declared war.

There are a lot of “supposed tos” that aren’t happening in US foreign policy. The president decides to go to war, and congress is too timid to enforce their ability to vote on it. The post-Richard Nixon War Powers Resolution has never once been actually used against a commander in chief who engaged troops or bombs or drones, or some combination, without approval from the legislative branch.

Few expected Donald Trump to be a micromanager of the armed forces. During his campaign, the future president talked the occasional good game about the benefits of the military being less of a presence in the world. When real world politics caught up with him, that supposed skepticism towards America’s past military adventures started to look a lot more like trusting the military to handle their own affairs – and that’s the most generous way of putting it.

To some, that’s a positive step. Trump sure thinks so. In April he said that the armed forces were making their own decisions on the ground and “frankly, that’s why they’ve been so successful lately.”

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