The crazy thing that could finally end America's 'forever war'

Afghanistan US Troop Surge
An AH-64 Apache attack helicopter provides security from above while CH-47 Chinooks drop off supplies to U.S. Soldiers with Task Force Iron at Bost Airfield, Afghanistan, June 10, 2017. The Soldiers are here to provide accurate fires capabilities in support of Task Force Southwest and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces during current operations. Task Force Southwest, comprised of approximately 300 Marines and Sailors from II Marine Expeditionary Force, are training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Army 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Justin T. Updegraff)

In case you haven’t heard, President Trump tweeted this morning. For a man who, according to his account profile, has posted his thoughts to Twitter some 35,170 times since March of 2009, his two down-and-dirty cheap shots at a female cable-TV morning host may have been the most vile, repulsive and misogynistic of them all, which is saying quite a lot. It was a reminder that the man — man-child, really — has shown no growth since he took an oath on January 20, 2017, to become the 45th president of the United States. moving into the house that Lincoln, TR, FDR and Ike built and immediately diminishing that edifice in the eyes of the world.

It didn’t seem possible, but Donald John Trump has actually shrunk on the job.

Like anyone with a platform, I debated whether the president’s juvenile and offensive tweets were the thing to write about tonight. That phrase from the 1950s and the scourge of McCarthyism — “have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last” — bounced around my head all day. And yet the whole thing is both depressing and depressingly predictable — liberals will express outrage, a handful of Republicans will voice or tweet their disappointment and concern over Trump, and that will be that. Maybe the idea that “decency” matters in American politics, that there are real-world consequences for trashing the office of the presidency, is lost somewhere in the 1950s.

And yet as I’ve noted here frequently, other things with more permanent and more dangerous consequences are happening while Trump thumbs his iPhone.

Yet at the same time, today was the first day that I started to wonder if Trump’s outrageous conduct in the White House could have far-reaching impacts that — inadvertently, of course — could actually be positive for America down the road. As both Democrats and some Republicans increasingly fret about the madman across Pennsylvania Avenue and the future of American democracy, some lawmakers might even grasp for the one thing that is the polar opposite of Donald Trump right now. Common sense.

It sounds crazy, until you hear about what just happened in House subcommittee meeting on Capitol Hill this morning, not long after Trump’s latest tweets heard ’round the world. From time to time in this space, I’ve complained about the American “forever war,” and how the Pentagon and the White House, from Bush to Obama to now Trump, has bent and twisted the perfectly reasonable 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF — which gave the U.S. military authority to go after Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks — to fit situations the resolution was never intended for.

As the 2000s gave way to the 2010s, that original document has been used to justify not only a troop presence in Afghanistan some 17 years later but warfare against a group — ISIS — that didn’t exist in 2001, and the launching of bombs from Parkistan to Africa. Most recently, the Trump administration used the AUMF to justify its military strike against the Syrian forces of Bashar al-Assad — even though the document not only make no mention of Syria while Assad, despicable as he may be, is waging war against the Islamic terrorists the AUMF actually does address.

Does any of that make sense? For a number of years, some representatives have argued it’s time to stop waging war all around the world on based a 16-year-old document and that new military actions, like airstrikes against the Syrian regime, should require a new vote in Congress. This morning, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California (the only rep to vote ‘no’ in 2001, for what it’s worth) introduced, in a House subcommittee, an amendment that would repeal the AUMF, forcing a broader re-examination of American militarism. You won’t believe what happened next:

Though Texas Rep. Kay Granger, the Republican chair of the subcommittee, objected to the amendment — saying it is still needed for the US “to fight the global war on terrorism” — some of her GOP colleagues then stood and said that they would side with Lee. In the end, the amendment passed with a resounding chorus of “ayes,” and only one or two “nays”.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole was the first Republican to stand and speak in favor of Lee’s amendment. “This is something where Congress has collectively avoided taking responsibility for years,” he said.

Utah Rep. Chris Stewart, a US Air Force veteran, was the next Republican to rise. “I feel like my world is rocked, because I see these two,” he said, gesturing toward Lee and Cole, “that have very different opinions, and yet I agree with you.”

Stewart, who wears his father’s air force pin on his lapel, said members of the military have noticed Congress’ failure to pass a new AUMF. “They have the courage to go out and fight these wars and they notice that we don’t have the courage to debate this, and to give them the authority to go do this,” he said. “They notice that Congress doesn’t have the guts to stand up and have this debate.”

Then came Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor, a Republican and former Navy SEAL. “I believe that we owe them the debate,” he said of those serving in the military.

Congress hasn’t seemed this assertive about invoking its own war powers since the era of — wait for it — Richard Nixon. This is by no means a done deal, and my sense is that some key Republicans may want to have that debate — and then vote for new expanded war powers anyway. Certainly if this movement gains more steam, the Pentagon and the Trump White House will try to shut that thing down. But the White House will also see its political authority erode as long as Trump’s moral authority crumbles further, as it did today.

Could the response to Trump’s unseemly tweets be….(gasp) bipartisanship? It seems like a stretch, and after the last 30 years I’d certainly have to see it to believe it. But also today, the front page of the New York Times is saying that — with the Republican health care bills even much less popular than Trump is — the center-right faction within the GOP is wondering if it really makes sense to reduce health coverage to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy. Take that element out of the Republican bill, and the only part that’s really left — shoring up the insurance exchanges that were created under the 2010 Obamacare bill — is something that Democrats would actually support.

We’re at a crossroads here. For the most part, I’ve warned about what’s going to happen — erosion of free press, voting rights, civil rights and other democratic norms — if the worst of Trump continues to be indulged by the powers that be inside the Beltway. And all these things are still on track. But what if this week — the seeming collapse of the GOP health care strategy, the increasing insanity of Trump’s childish demeanor — changes everything? What if the horror starts an honest conversation about our common ground, not just on these military entanglements that have spiraled out of control and upgrading health care but other areas like fixing crumbling infrastructure (ridden a New York City subway lately?) where there’s actually agreement between the parties. What if the political response to Trump is…decency? At long last.