Our dereliction of duty in time of war

I recently reintroduced the Universal National Service Act, which includes a military draft. Just as our president must consult with Congress before sending our brave troops into combat, so too must our nation fully consider the costs and obligations we assume when we engage in something as serious as war.

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No longer can we continue to make decisions about war without worrying over who fights them. So few families have a stake in the wars we fight as a nation when they are being fought by other people’s children. America has already suffered the loss of 5,900 lives and 38,000 wounded soldiers from fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Currently the burden of defending our nation is carried by only 1 percent of the American population. It’s this 1 percent that makes the ultimate sacrifice of laying down life and limb for our country.

This is not just about the lives risked and lost. It is also about financial costs at a time when millions of families and the government are being forced to make shared sacrifices. Currently our nation is mired in a debt of $14.3 trillion, caused in part by the enormous costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to the failed policies of the Bush administration. The first day of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya cost the U.S. more than $100 million. We should be investing in innovation, jobs, education and healthcare at home — not spending on more war.

While recent polls show that the American people are broadly supportive of preventing innocent people from being killed or wounded by the forces aligned with Moammar Gadhafi, they have not been given a formal chance — through their representatives — to have their voices heard on this matter. In order to preserve our integrity and constitutional principles before both the American people and the global community, Congress must act on its responsibilities in fully representing the people before sending them to war.

We can no longer continue to disregard the mandate established by the War Powers Act, which seeks to reaffirm the basic separation of powers outlined in Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution.

Over decades, Congress has been reluctant to assert its authority when presidents send American military personnel into harm’s way — in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and in Korea, where I fought. We went into these conflicts without knowing how long they would last, and we still maintain a military presence in both Korea and Iraq. In June 1950, we thought we would be out of Korea by the end of summer — we thought Iraq would be a “cakewalk.”

The act of sending our troops into harm’s way without addressing it before Congress, the voice of those very people our presidents send to combat, must end. This is part of an unconstitutional trend that has become a norm.

I know President Obama cares for the safety of our brave men and women in uniform. But Congress should have been called into session last week to assume our responsibility of considering our president’s decision before involving the Unites States in any military conflict. When we fail to assert our constitutional authority and obligations in something as consequential as war, we slowly undermine the principles that have made America the world’s greatest nation.

Rangel, who is serving his 21st term in the House, received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service in the Korean War.