When the 116th Congress—including a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives—is sworn into office in a few weeks, there will be no shortage of pressing issues demanding the attention of legislators. These include perhaps the most solemn question facing any government: when and how to deploy the awesome power of the United States armed forces.
Few matters are as complex or as consequential. And Congress should not be shy. The Constitution grants competing powers in the realm of foreign affairs to Congress and the president, with the expectation—even the demand—of aggressive oversight. Having served at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, I understand that many in the White House will see this congressional role as a nuisance. But they would be well advised to welcome it, because a full partnership with Congress on national security matters will improve both the policies and their execution, while also beginning to restore the American people’s trust in Washington.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has sorely lacked any such oversight in its first two years. Two recent news stories highlight the need for congressional investigations into matters affecting Americans overseas. One tells us that accountability for the deadly ambush in 2017 of U.S. troops in Niger is still a matter of dispute. And the other reports that the Army National Guard—apparently prompted by an article in The New York Times—is conducting its own investigation into whether a unit deployed to Afghanistan was appropriately trained and outfitted after its request for specific equipment had gone unmet.
Congress has fallen behind on meeting even its most basic oversight obligation, which is to assess the fitness of officials who would represent the United States overseas in diplomatic or military capacities. According to The Washington Post and the Partnership for