Over 20 years ago, the global war on terror began in the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This wasn’t the first time America had gone to war after an attack, but there was something different about this war.

In the past, when we were attacked, we went after the specific group that attacked us. Instead, President George W. Bush duped the American people into going to war with a tactic and, one could argue, an ideology, instead of a specific group.

During the fervor that followed, Congress ceded to the president its constitutionally mandated duty to decide when America goes to war. Congress did this by passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force. This gave the chief executive carte blanche to send American soldiers to fight any enemy the president chose — all under the guise of fighting terrorism.

The authorization has since been used to justify combat operations across the globe: from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen and Syria, among many other conflicts.

We went into these wars with no clear objectives and no exit strategy. This inevitably led to mission creep and, at times, changes in operational goals which contradicted each other.

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A great example of this was Bush’s “Redirection” in 2006. Bush decided that, while fighting the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, which was primarily composed of al-Qaida foreign fighters, to support radical Sunni rebels in Syria. Part of Bush’s rationale was to back the Saudis in their operations against Iranian-backed Shiite groups, which is essentially the same justification for our involvement in Yemen.

Has our meddling in the Middle East made the region more stable? It’s pretty clear that it hasn’t. In fact, our meddling has made the region even more unstable. We have created vacuums of power, which have given rise to even more oppressive, barbaric and extreme groups than those we deposed.

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Our wars haven’t negatively affected only the people of the various nations we’ve interfered with. They’ve also cost U.S. taxpayers around $8 trillion, and they’ve cost us the lives of thousands of service members, while leaving thousands more suffering from mental and physical wounds.

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We also shouldn’t forget the hundreds of thousands of civilian lives in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen that have been lost. America should stand as an example to other countries of what they should strive for, but instead we act like the playground bully, forcing countries to do what we want and trying to beat up anybody who we don’t like. 

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When I was an infantry soldier, I heard a truckload of reasons why the guys I served with joined the infantry, but not a single one enlisted to become the world police. We owe it to our service members, our country and the citizens of other countries to end this “Team America: World Police” schtick that we’ve been carrying on for the last 20 years. Conveniently, an opportunity to reel in that failed policy is just about here. 

A Reclamation of War Powers bill is currently sitting in Congress. It’s up to us, the American people, to encourage our elected officials to support it. If you value the lives of our service members, civilians around the world and sound fiscal policy, please join me in encouraging Sen. Mike Lee to publicly support this resolution that would put America and our troops first. 

Brandon Williamson is a U.S. Army veteran, and the director of social media at Young Americans for Liberty. He lives in Wyoming.

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