National Guard shouldn't serve at the president's whim

Rich Moniak

In October 2002 President Bush made the case that the regime of Saddam Hussein posed a gathering threat to the nation's security. Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which gave him the power to go to war against Iraq. He activated National Guard troops to support the invasion.

Six years later the Guard is still serving in Iraq, much to the dismay of state legislators across the country.

This month Democratic senators in Maryland introduced a bill that, if passed, would give their governor the authority to "withhold approval of transfer of the National Guard to federal control in absence of: (I) an explicit authorization for use of military force on the date of the federal request for transfer; or (II) a declaration of war by Congress."

In Oregon, where a similar bill is moving through their state legislature, Republican representative and Vietnam War veteran Dennis Richardson told his constituents that the Constitution doesn't place the National Guard "at the beck and call of the president to fight any foreign conflict the president might deem appropriate."

In Wisconsin, Libertarian Party chairman Jim Mass contends that U.S. occupation of Iraq is not an emergency that legally justifies deployment of the National Guard. Other states considering legislation on this issue include Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and New York.

What these lawmakers are essentially stating is that the authorization to use military force has expired and there is no longer a legal basis for their governor to relinquish command of the National Guard to the president. It's an issue that's ripe for attention in Alaska where state's rights are a passionate flame among large segments of our population.

The National Guard forms part of our military's reserve forces ready to defend the country against foreign enemies. It makes sense that they should be available to supplement the country's active duty troop level in a time of war.

But the operative word is "supplement." It's difficult to imagine how the president can send the National Guard to Iraq while leaving more than 250,000 active duty U.S. troops stationed elsewhere in foreign locations.

The National Guard is supposed to be available at home to respond to natural disasters such hurricanes, wildfires and even blizzards. Consider that in 2005 about 80,000 National Guard troops were deployed in Iraq when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. In a reversal of roles, the Pentagon was forced to supplement the state level emergency response with 7,000 active-duty soldiers.

National Guard deployments might be a moot point if President Barack Obama follows through with his plan to withdraw all troops from Iraq in 16 months. But after a month in office, he's already called for a buildup of our military presence in Afghanistan.

Does the president have the authority to deploy the National Guard there? If the situation in Afghanistan is a justifiable security concern, shouldn't active duty troops from American bases in other countries be deployed first?

There's no national emergency in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is a serious economic crisis here. And the American Empire is broke largely due to the three quarters of a trillion dollars President Bush and Congress squandered in Iraq. It's time to restore the rights of the states to responsibly manage their military reserves. Alaska should join the call to bring the National Guard home.

Rich Moniak is a member of the Juneau People for Peace and Justice and an Associate Member of the Juneau Chapter of Veterans for Peace. His son is in the U.S. Army serving his third tour in Iraq.