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.
The bombing numbers come from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and were reported by Time Magazine.
Even as Trump has made headlines about bringing troops home from Afghanistan, he has directed significant escalation in military intervention in Somalia. In 2017, President Trump loosened the rules of engagement for the drone war in that country, and since then the U.S. military has 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.
There are also roughly 650 to 800 U.S. troops on the ground in Somalia.
Trump has reportedly asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a troop withdrawal from the country. But 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 with.
“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 president has also tweeted about ending the war in Afghanistan in an apparent campaign move to solidify support from anti-interventionist libertarians and paleo-conservatives.
Thank you LIBERTARIANS. We are getting it all done, and FAST! VOTE TRUMP!!! https://t.co/ai2vTb1V3G
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2020
But it’s hard to take Trump’s sudden anti-war rhetoric seriously when he intentionally escalated the war in Somalia along with bombing campaigns in Afghanistan.
As far as ending the war in Afghanistan, Trump oversaw a record number of bombs dropped in in that country just last year. According to U.S. Air Force Central Command data, coalition aircraft (excluding the Afghan Air Force) dropped 7,423 weapons in 2019, slightly higher than the 7,362 dropped in 2018. Keeping up the pace, U.S. warplanes dropped 415 bombs in January and 360 bombs in February, according to CENTCOM. (The last data posted.) That was just under 2019’s record pace.
And despite the lack of American casualties, the U.S. war in Somalia continues to exact a human toll. According to an investigation by Amnesty International, 21 civilians were killed in just nine airstrikes and 11 others were injured. According to Airwars and reported by Time, evidence suggests that as many as 15 Somali civilians have been killed by U.S. strikes in 2020 alone.
Despite his reputation as a slightly less military interventionist president and some progress toward deescalating some of America’s foreign military adventurism, Donald Trump continues to run unconstitutional and illegal wars.
There is absolutely no constitutional authority for President Trump to bomb Somalia. Congress has not declared war on that country, and the president’s role as commander-in-chief does not authorize him to initiate offensive military action.
Constitutionally, Congress must “declare war” before the president can engage in offensive military action. As George Washington wrote in a letter to William Moultrie, “The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress, therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure.”
Instead of a declaration of war, Trump, along with Bush and Obama 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 and Trump have used it to justify their independent decisions to take military action across the globe, including Somalia.
But 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.
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.