Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Misusing the National Guard

From time to time – and it is just “time to time” because most FCNL supporters use their “communications” time to contact their senators and representatives and their local staffs, not FCNL – I come across a message from individuals familiar with the anti-war position of the Society of Friends – even if they are not Quakers themselves.

A recent letter commented on the use (or misuse) of the National Guard to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As many others have commented, the writer noted that today’s Guard structure, equipment, training, and personnel qualifications can be traced back to the 1903 reforms initiated by then Secretary of War Elihu Root. In terms of battle heritage, many go back to the War for Independence.

For the first 50 years of the revamped Guard, units could be federalized only in event of a national emergency. In 1952, Congress changed the law to permit orders for “active duty” or “active duty for training” – but if no emergency existed, requiring the consent of the governor of the state whose National Guard is being called/into federal service. With the semi- illegal machinations of the White House and the National Security Council in Central America during the Reagan administration, governors brought and lost a 1986 challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court on the power of the president to send National Guard units to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and Nicaragua for “training” and construction activities.

The writer of the letter suggested that Congrss could hasten the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by attaching a provision to a Defense Department appropriations bill that would reinstate the requirement for the consent of a governor before a state’s Guard units could be sent abroad.

The idea is definitely worth discussing. But I think to get anything like this off the ground, the real push will have to come from the states, specifically the state governors and the adjutants-general who are the commanders of the National Guard units of the various states. With the Congress so closely divided – particularly in the Senate – the real power on this type of federal-state issue has to be generated from the states. In a sense, this might be a blessing in disguise because state government is generally more responsive to grass roots efforts than is the federal government. Moreover, if state governors and state political organizations get behind an initiative to prohibit use of National Guard units for occupation duty abroad, it would provide political “cover” for U.S. Senators and Representatives to propose and co-sponsor legislation to that effect or even to remove the National Guard from the Pentagon’s control – although this would probably garner less support.

Whether any change could be enacted today with the just-announced call-up of four National Guard combat brigades for a second tour in Iraq and Afghanistan is problematical. On the other hand, such a proposal appended to a Pentagon appropriations bill might initiate a real debate about the National Guard’s role. At this stage, even that would be a positive step.

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