Threats from Pentagon officials doomed a West Virginia bill that would have blocked unconstitutional foreign deployments of the state’s National Guard troops and effectively restored the founders’ framework for a state-federal balance on the Guard.
But while the bill failed to pass, its story reveals the power and potential of this approach.
Opposition and backroom threats wouldn’t have existed if the legislation didn’t actually pose a threat to the unconstitutional status quo.
Del. Pat McGeehan (R-Hancock, 1) sponsored the Defend the Guard Act (House Bill 2168), McGeehan served as a former Air Force intelligence officer and did tours in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Ten other delegates co-sponsored this bipartisan legislation.
The bill would have prohibited West Virginia Guard units from deploying into active duty combat without an official Declaration of War from the US Congress, or as provided for under the three enumerated powers listed in the “militia clause” of the Constitution.
The story behind the bill’s demise is as fascinating as it is alarming.
McGeehan said the bill started with strong bipartisan support and things initially looked promising.
“The bill wraps the Principles of 1798, 10th Amendment values, along with pushing back against U.S. foreign policy and the war hawks that have promoted this anti-Founders vision for the last several decades. It is resistance against the Warfare State, and yet conservatives and liberals here gave it strong support,” he said. “The bill was set to run on the first committee’s agenda, as I had several more influential members of the legislature co-sponsor it with me, including two major committee chairs. The Speaker of the House even tacitly endorsed it.”
In spite of the initial momentum, the bill died shortly after Washington D.C. got wind of it. Its potential ramifications frightened the power structure. McGeehan said certain phone calls were made that brought HB2168’s progress to a screeching halt.
“As the bill started picking up much media attention, the Speaker of the House called me and asked to meet in his office, as the Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, a two-star general, got wind of it, and wanted to meet as soon as possible,” he said. “During the meeting in the Speaker’s office, the Adjutant General stated that he received a phone call from the office of the Chief of Staff of the US Army at the Pentagon, who evidently was very irate. He had told the Adjutant General of the West Virginia Guard, ‘If that bill sees the light of day, your Guard bases in West Virginia will find their way onto the BRAC closure list.’“
Guard troops played significant roles in all modern overseas conflicts, with over 650,000 deployed since 2001. More specifically, West Virginia National Guard troops participated in missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo and elsewhere. Since none of these missions were accompanied by a Constitutional declaration of war, the Defend the Guard Act would have prohibited the deployments. Such declarations have only happened five times in U.S. history, with the last being in World War II. Fully recognizing the important role the National Guard plays in effectuating U.S. foreign policy goals, the Pentagon wasted no time in twisting arms and making threats to kill HB2168.
“The Adjutant General of the West Virginia Guard actually agreed with me though. He started tearing up during the meeting, talking about how many boys and girls he has had to see come back from Iraq and Afghanistan in caskets draped in the American flag, for nothing but this futile nation-state building,” McGeehan said. “But since such an authoritarian response from the Pentagon was issued immediately, he was very worried.”
While some may view the failure of the Defend the Guard Act this time around as a setback, it actually validates the work pursued by McGeehan. The quick response from D.C. indicates the powers-that-be know state refusal to cooperate can throw a monkey wrench in the warfare state.
And it may be the only way to force the United States to abide by war powers laid out in the Constitution.
In spite of millions of people throughout the country engaging in massive protests, little headway was made against the war machine. However, working at the state level, we can effectively limit the resources at the disposal of the military-industrial complex.
“Though I could not get the bill to run, we are going to come back and push it hard again,” McGeehan said. “Only we want to reach out to other like-minded state legislators from different states to potentially introduce similar legislation in a more coordinated approach – a ‘strength-in-numbers’ strategy. I see this concept as a solid way of resistance.”
You can help McGeehan spearhead this revolution of state-level resistance against aggressive and unconstitutional wars waged illegally by the federal government. Call your state legislator and politely, but respectfully ask that they Defend the Guard. Explain this legislation to them, and link them to this article if necessary. You can find their contact information at this link: http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/
Mike Maharrey contributed to this report