While most foreign policy attention has been focused on Afghanistan, the Biden administration has ramped up bombing in Somalia.

U.S. forces bombed targets in Somalia three times in late July and early August. Prior to Biden’s ramp-up, the last time AFRICOM reported a strike in the country was on January 19, President Trump’s last day in office.

The Pentagon’s initial assessment reported no civilian casualties as a result of the attacks. But AntiWar.com points out, AFRICOM almost always claims no civilian casualties from its Somalia airstrikes, and the military is notorious for undercounting civilian casualties.

According to an investigation by Amnesty International, 21 civilians were killed and 11 injured in just nine of the 189 U.S. airstrikes launched in Somalia between 2017 and 2020. According to Airwars data reported by Time, evidence suggests that as many as 15 Somali civilians were killed by U.S. strikes in 2020 alone.

Biden appears to be pivoting back toward the Trump administration policy of aggression in the African country.

Trump significantly ramped up the conflict in Somalia during his four years in office. In 2017, he loosened the rules of engagement for the drone war. In the following years, the U.S. military executed a record number of bombing missions. The bombing campaign through the first seven months of the year was a continuation of last year’s significant spike. In 2019, the U.S. military conducted 63 airstrikes in Somalia, the most in any single year.

Through the first seven months in 2020, the U.S. military under Pres. Donald Trump conducted 43 airstrikes in Somalia. That compares to 42 U.S. airstrikes in that country from 2007 to 2017. In other words, in just seven months, the Trump administration bombed Somalia more than Pres. G.W. Bush and Pres. Barack Obama combined.

Trump withdrew nearly all of the 700 troops that were stationed in Somalia during the last few months of his presidency. But they didn’t come home. The Pentagon simply redeployed them into neighboring East African countries where they have easy access to move back into Somalia.

As Dave DeCamp pointed out in an op-ed published by Antiwar.com, Trump was responsible for sending most of those 650 to 800 troops into the region to begin.

“If the president successfully withdraws some troops from the country, it would undoubtedly be a good thing, but would it wind down the conflict? U.S. troops are not doing the fighting and dying in Somalia. It’s a war being waged by drones.”

The personnel flying those drones were never in Somalia. They are stationed in neighboring Djibouti and Kenya.

Clearly, the Trump withdrawal didn’t end the U.S. war in Somalia. Along with Biden’s bombing missions, AFRICOM chief Gen. Stephen Townsend admitted U.S. troops were still operating in the country from bases outside the border, and he is putting pressure on Biden to authorize redeployment of troops back into the country. Townsend said he didn’t want to detail his “options” as far as moving troops back across the Somali border, but he did say that training, advising, and assist missions are a lot harder with troops outside of the country.

There is absolutely no constitutional authority for President Bident to bomb Somalia any more than there was constitutional authority for Trump to bomb the country. Congress never declared war on Somalia, and the president’s role as commander-in-chief does not constitutionally authorize him to initiate offensive military action.

Constitutionally, Congress must “declare war” before the president can engage in offensive military action. As James Madison put it in Helvidius No. IV, “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”

Congress never deliberated over or authorized military operations in Somalia.

Instead of a declaration of war, Biden, along with Bush, Obama, and Trump before him, relies on the authorization to use military force (AUMF) passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 to justify military action across the globe. But this stretches the president’s constitutional authority far beyond the breaking point.

In practice, these resolutions authorize the president to decide if and when he wants to take military action. The AUMF passed after 9/11 to authorize the invasion of Afghanistan remains in effect today. Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden have used it to justify their independent decisions to take military action across the globe, including Somalia.

But modern congressional AUMFs simply don’t pass constitutional muster.

No constitutional provision authorizes Congress to transfer its delegated powers to another party, including the president. In fact, doing so violates basic legal rules of construction. In contract law, when a principal (the people) delegates power to an agent (the federal government), the agent cannot transfer its delegated power to another party without specific direction within the contract. No such authorization exists in the Constitution. So, Congress can’t legally give the president a blank slate to make decisions about war at his own discretion. Congress must make that call and make it specifically before the initiation of military action.

Again — Congress has never authorized military action in Somalia.

Some might argue that dropping some bombs in a faraway desert isn’t really a big deal. But America’s unconstitutional wars exact a significant cost. And the price we pay isn’t just in dollars.

James Madison warned about the dangers of endless wars, calling them a threat to our liberty. We’re seeing his fears play out before our very eyes.

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” [Emphasis added]

We would be wise to heed Madison’s warning.


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