Dugger, Can a US general now declare war?

the general
US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, to whom Donald Trump appears to have transferred war powers reserved for Congress by the US Constitution. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kayla V. McTaw.

Has a three-star US general
declared war on Somalia?

by Ronnie Dugger — Reader Supported News

Within expanded authority President Trump granted him last Wednesday, General Thomas David Waldhauser appears to have declared war on or in Somalia in the name of the United States by designating part of that African nation a war zone.

With our country now committing military attacks in many nations with which we are not constitutionally at war, Lt. Gen. Waldhauser’s declaring now that a certain area in southern Somalia is a war zone apparently both exposes and represents a new authority that Trump may have in effect passed on to the Pentagon and military officers.

A graduate of Bemidji State University in Northern Minnesota and a much-decorated combat veteran of three US wars, Waldhauser’s three-star ranking in the Marines is roughly equivalent to a vice-admiral’s in the Navy. He is now the commander of the US Africa Command, one of the nation’s six regional commands around the world.

The recent notable increase in civilian casualties (“collateral damage”) in US raids in several conflicts, including about 150 civilian dead in Mosul on March 17, has caused some critical alarm that Trump’s presidency is to blame. The Trump White House and the US military are contending there has been no change in the military’s “rules of engagement.” But Trump’s announced order giving the Pentagon and the military more autonomy in how they wage military attacks without his OK now raises the even larger question, has Trump given the military the power to declare wars on or in other nations in the name of the United States?

Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution says “Congress shall have power … to declare war,” but Congress, many of its members politically ducking highly challengeable “yes” or “no” votes on starting wars, often, in flaring military situations, in fact cedes its constitutional war-declaring power to the president. Beginning in the 1930s, proposals to require a citizens’ referendum to declare war were proposed and failed. In 1973 Congress enacted the War Powers Resolution limiting the president’s war-making powers in literal US self-defense to 60 days, after which he must go to Congress for approval.

The military’s expanded power in Somalia was revealed, not by Congress, but by Trump and then Lt. Gen. Waldhauser in an Associated Press story posted Friday in which the new war zone in Somalia and the topic of civilian casualties were all but buried. In defending his need for the new latitude, the general may have implied that he could if he wished declare “free fire zones” (zones where everybody can be killed, as in Vietnam) by explaining that he would not do that in Somalia.

In her story Lolita C. Baldor leads with the news that “Trump has granted the US military more authority to go after al-Qaida-linked militants in Somalia, approving a Pentagon request to allow more aggressive airstrikes, officials said Thursday…. Trump’s decision … allows US special operations forces to accompany Somali National Army troops and other African allies as they move closer to the fight, enabling them to call in offensive airstrikes quicker.”

“Portions of southern Somalia, excluding the capital Mogadishu, will be considered a warzone, officials said. That designation gives US forces on the ground the authority to call in offensive airstrikes, rather than waiting for approval by higher level commanders.”

The Pentagon had asked for the greater authority last month. In Somalia, the story continued, “Al-Shabab has carried out deadly attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere…. Attacks on military bases in the past two years have slowed joint African Union-Somali offensives against the group….”

“Waldhauser … told members of Congress last week he wouldn’t turn Somalia into a ‘free fire zone.’ He dismissed suggestions the change could cause more civilian casualties.

“The new guidelines pertain to US assistance of Somali and African Union troops, not unilateral American missions in the Horn of Africa country. About 50 US commandos have been rotating in and out of Somalia to advise and assist local troops. That number could now increase slightly at certain times, said officials….”

The current population of Mogadishu is about 1,400,000. What are the military’s “rules of engagement” in a war zone, as compared with not in a war zone? If a three-star general can declare a part of Somalia a war zone for the purposes of US bombing, under Trump what rank must a US military officer have to in effect declare war under its war zone rules on or in a country?

Ronnie Dugger won the 2011 George Polk career award in journalism. He founded The Texas Observer, has written biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, a book on Hiroshima and one on universities, many articles in The New Yorker, The Nation, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and other publications, and is now writing a book on new thinking about nuclear war. Email: ronniedugger@gmail.com


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