Did you know that the United States was engaged in fighting in both Somalia and Yemen? Neither did Congress, apparently.
In a confession that makes one long for the days when the Legislative Branch actually voted on military action, President Obama admitted in a letter to Congress that ground forces have in fact been committed to fighting terrorist elements in both Somalia and Yemen.
According to Newser, Obama’s letter noted that the military has only engaged in a “limited number of engagements” with enemy forces there (sort of like the U.S. did in Vietnam in the ’50s): Shabab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in Yemen. Both groups, the President assures, threaten “the United States and our interests.”
George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, added that “Going forward, the American people should know that we will do what is necessary to defend our country against those who would threaten us.” While it is certainly kind of the President to inform the American people of these military engagements, the unclassified portion of the letter doesn’t reveal much else. Allegedly the classified portion of the letter contains more details about these engagements – presumably trifling details like how many operations there have been, how large they have been, their nature, casualties suffered, etc.
The New York Times notes that this move is one of a number of “halting” steps the Obama presidency has taken towards greater transparency, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin E. Dempsey supported the decision to reveal these military actions and cited the need for the military needed to be more open about what it’s up to when possible.
Admittedly this situation is somewhat sticky; on the one hand, Al Qaeda and other such terrorist organizations are not officially tied to any one nation and are free and able to move across international borders, and it is the ostensible prerogative of the United States as it executes the War on Terror to follow. And one can appreciate the need to keep some military operations secret for security reasons.
But on the other, this seems to represent yet another example of action by a military that more and more seems drawn under direct and exclusive Executive authority. One wonders how we would have reacted if the current President’s predecessor that had revealed similar news. Angrily, perhaps?
This may be old fashioned, but it seems like the President should be asking for permission from Congress when it comes to military action rather than simply informing them after the fact. But I guess a heads up is better than nothing.