MILWAUKEE — 9/11-generation Marine veteran, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, is reflecting on America’s decades-long promise to end “forever wars” after Pres. Biden announced plans to pull out all US troops from Afghanistan by the fall.
“I think the correct conversation with the American people is, 'alright, let's be honest about where we're putting our troops and what we're getting out of that investment and how much risk we are willing to take,’” said Rep. Gallagher.
Biden has set Sept 11, the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks that led to the US invasion of Afghanistan, as the deadline for all US combat troops there to come home. Gallagher says while it is time to consider ending the war, he's opposed to how Biden is doing it.
“I don't think it makes any sense to set the date on 9/11,” he said. “I think that gives a huge PR victory to the Taliban. In other words, we are unconditionally surrendering on the anniversary of the attack on US soil.”
Gallagher spent 10 years as an intel officer with the Marines and sees parallels between Biden's promise and Pres. Barack Obama's withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Gallagher was deployed there when that war was ending. He sees Obama's move as a political pledge that led to destabilization.
“What we saw was increased terrorism from Iran, but also increased Sunni Salafi jihadist terrorism in the form of ISIS because we created a vacuum and bad guys and terrorist groups filled that vacuum,” he said. “Similarly today, I think we risk creating a series of vacuum around the world, whether it's allowing Russia to threaten and invade Ukraine, whether it is the unconditional surrender in Afghanistan, or whether it's creating a permissive environment in Taiwan that would incentivize the Chinese Communist Party to test us.”
Trump Wanted Out Sooner
Reaction to Biden's decision generally has split along party lines even though Pres. Donald Trump, before leaving office, had set a withdrawal deadline of this past May.
“Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do,” said Trump in a statement. “I planned to withdraw on May 1st, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.”
But Gallagher says he didn’t agree with the former president’s decision either.
“I sort of thought, ‘well, we don't want to do this based on just what's going to be good for the election,’” said Gallagher. “We want to do this based on what's actually going to, you know, keep America safe going forward.”
Limiting the President’s Powers
Gallagher and a bipartisan group of 9/11-generation veterans are united behind an effort to reconsider the president’s war powers.
“We're trying to say, 'okay, one way Congress can get back in the game to ensure that we're not on an endless war footing, is by taking all these outdated authorizations off the books and forcing a discussion about whether the 9/11 authorization is still useful?" said Gallagher.
In March, Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, Peter Meijer, R-Michigan, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Virginia, joined Gallagher in co-sponsoring legislation that would repeal longstanding resolutions authorizing the president’s use of military force without a vote by Congress. Prof. Ben Hopkins, International Affairs Professor at the George Washington University explains this is a way for Congress to restore checks and balances.
“The president’s operations in Afghanistan and legal grounding comes from the authorization of the use of force, which actually comes out of September 2001,” said Prof. Hopkins. “So from a legal instrument, this is a very old and open-ended congressional authorization. I think what it speaks to more broadly, is the abdication by not only the legislative, but also in many ways by the American executive, taking responsibility for this war. Since American troops entered in October 2001, there has been no clear, consistent public articulation of what our war aims are.”
A Tribute to the Troops
Gallagher believes the war in Afghanistan and the broader war on terror have been successful in preventing foreign terror attacks on US soil. He wants to honor those who fought in it with a memorial on the National Mall in Washington.
“We had great success in my first term in Congress,” said Gallagher. “We got a bill passed authorizing it. Now we're trying to pass a bill that would just authorize a place on the mall itself.”
Gallagher says he’s confident it could happen during this term as he has many co-sponsors from both parties backing his proposal.
“I'd love to be able to take my kids and grandkids to DC and show them a 9/11 Memorial and the way that right now we're seeing the thing about an Honor Flight, right?” said Gallagher. “There's nothing cooler than going to an Honor Flight either when they come here, when they land in Appleton and Green Bay. You just see these Vietnam vets who got spit on when they came home from war, and now they're getting that recognition they deserve. I mean, that's a beautiful thing.”
May 17 Editor's note: Previously, the story above stated Professor Ben Hopkins teaches at Georgetown University. It has been updated to reflect that he teaches at the George Washington University.