Donald Trump

Trump Attacks Syria Without Congressional Authorization (or Clearly Defined Goals)

Basically, it's just like every other military engagement since 9/11.



President Donald Trump ordered military strikes against Syria on Friday night (early Saturday morning in Syria), which he framed as a response to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians and rebel fighters last week.

The attack commences without two fundamental elements of any hostile engagement against another nation: authorization from Congress, and a clear understanding of the mission's aims. These are not mere technicalities, regardless of how often they have been brushed aside by various chief executives in the name of expediency.

Just hours ago, 87 members of Congress sent a letter to the White House demanding that Trump not take military action without congressional authorization. Trump apparently thumbed his nose at the request. Your move, Congress.

It's quite likely that Trump will claim the attack on Syria was covered under the same Authorization for the Use of Military Force that has been used to justify almost every American intervention in the Middle East (the Iraq War was authorized separately) since it was passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks. That was more than 200 months ago, for anyone who is keeping count.

Just this week, outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) downplayed the importance of forcing Trump to get congressional approval for a strike on Syria. "Well, he has the authority under the existing AUMF," Ryan said Thursday.

In other words, a congressional mandate for the U.S. military to go after the 9/11 plotters is now being used to target Assad.

The second important question that would have been important to ask before the missiles start flying and the bombs start exploding—as they apparently already have—is "how will we know we have achieved our goals?"

On this front, too, Trump failed to make a compelling case. The closest that Trump came to defining a goal for the attack was a threat "to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents." That's better than nothing, but it's not very clear—and it's not at all clear what it would take to drive the Syrian dictator from power, nor what Iran and Russia would be willing to do to keep him there. If Trump is serious about defining victory in that way, he may have just committed the United States to a long, bloody path.

This is all the more infuriating because Trump seems to understand the limits of American military power, and certainly has been better at articulating those limitations than either of his immediate predecessors. Indeed, he even acknowledged those limitations on Friday night.

"We cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny," Trump said. "America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria. We look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home."

If only we could look forward to the day when they would be kept at home, until such time as Congress deems appropriate to deploy them.

(This post has been updated.)

NEXT: U.S. Launches New Military Strikes Against Syria

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  1. That’s sad to hear. This should way heavily on all of our souls.

      1. I guess I’m just a softy when it comes to people being bombed to death. It’s a flaw, I admit.

          1. I wish I could BTFO, but I was sucking mega mondo dicks while typing this.

            In fact, every post I make I make while sucking mega mondo wieners.

            1. You feel like sharing any of those cocks? I am feeling sad about this military attack and need some comforting. If not, I’ll just go watch some Grey’s Anatomy.

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        1. I, too, am terribly upset by my fellow chemical weapons enthusiasts being ka-poofed.

        2. Casualty count please?

          Besides the civilians who died in the chemical attack days before.

          US, UK and French attacks destroyed chemical weapons facilities.

          There was an advance warning to allow evacuation.

        3. Most I have found since commenting earlier: “Syrian state-run TV news reported three civilians injured at Homs, though they also claimed that the missile strike at Homs there was “aborted”.”

          If people were bombed to death, Syrian state-run TV news would have an incentive to report it; they are not even making up people bombed to death.

          Oh, the inhumanity of dropping bombs on chemical weapons stashes. Brings tears my eyes.

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  2. Is it October already????

    1. Yep. Here we go again.

  3. The Deep State made him do it!

  4. The silliest part of this piece is the suggestion that Trump understands the limlits of American power. This is the guy who wondered during the campaign why we don’t use nukes. He knows nothing and wants to know nothing.

    1. He knows nothing

      He knows how to make deals.
      He knows how to market himself.
      He knows how to pay a lot of money for sex.
      Most importantly, he knows how to win.

      1. Trump wins they way Charlie Sheen wins.

        Conservatives, on the other hand, lose. For nearly a century, their liberal-libertarian betters have beaten and are beating right-wingers on nearly every front — environmental protection; prayer in schools; abortion; gay-bashing; health care; the drug war; Social Security; creationism in science classes.

        The American electorate is becoming less friendly to Republicans, who rely on white, religious, rural, backward, bigoted yahoos in a nation that becomes less white, less religious, less rural, less backward, and less bigoted with each publication of the obituaries.

        Let Trump’s half-educated, backward, intolerant, authoritarian base cheer for “mission accomplished” and ‘winning.” This provides a brief respite from another shambling, deplorable day in the depleted, can’t-keep-up backwaters. They’ll get back to losing soon enough.

        1. Yep, they are being replaced by globalist neo-progressives who are rushing in to take their turn at attacking and occupying the shit out of recalcitrant regimes in countries their urban voting base is completely and smugly ignorant about and can’t locate on a map.

          Re: HRC and company.

        2. And they’ve been winning on concealed carry, charter schools, lower taxes, and immigration policy. Not to mention drug legalization seems to be progressing as well under Trump as it was under his predecessor. Keep right on deluding yourself that “right” and “left” are synonyms for “regress” and “progress”, rather than the two archetypal forces on either side of progress that they actually are, though.

          And as always, points for celebrating the reduction of a racial group’s population as a victory for tolerance.

          1. You propose that curbing drug warriors is a conservative endeavor?

            That’s as dumb as claiming that a right-winger hiding in libertarian drag is a libertarian.

            1. Literally the article two slots down from this one has Trump supporting drug federalism. Which is the extent of what Obama did, minus the raids on Californian medical marijuana dispensaries, at least.

        3. Rev, you are mentioning al things that are not listed in the constitution yet you are reprimanding Trump??? I agree that a declaration of war needs to come from congress, but for the last 50 years all presidents have done it, not just Trump, and now you are upset?? Hypocrites, all.

    2. “We cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny,” Trump said.

      “That is, without the use of nukes.”

      1. “Obama is, without question, the WORST EVER president. I predict he will now do something really bad and totally stupid to show manhood!”

    3. When Trump doesn’t know something it stays unknown.

  5. In other words, a congressional mandate for the U.S. military to go after the 9/11 plotters is now being used to target Assad.

    Hmm. Can it be used to target Putin?

    1. It could be used to target Mars.

    2. But is it being used to target Assad? Or just punish the use of chemical weapons? I get the feeling that unlike the neo-cons, Trump is fine with Assad staying just as long as he doesn’t create problems for Trump. Using chemical weapons when Trump said not to gets you a symbolic bombing and the destruction of some assets, but otherwise Trump has not shown an appetite for doing what Obama did in Libya. I hope it stays that way.

  6. Something something, red line.

    1. Ken’s over on the other thread waving the red flag:

  7. Rep. Barbara Lee
    “By illegally bombing Syria, President Trump has once again denied the American people any oversight or accountability in this endless war. Congress, not the president, has the power to authorize military action.”

    She’d have a bit more standing if she had made that claim in the summer of 2016. She didn’t.

    1. AUMF,

      On this, and many other things, Congress ceded their power to the executive many years ago.

      1. Just like they cede their powers on other issues. Can one say fed reserve, CFPB,

    2. Sevo, you forgot to mention Obama, Bill Clinton, both Bushes that did not get a declaration of war from the congress. Did you forget that? or is it selective blame here?

  8. I call the BS flag on your whining for a congressional mandate.
    The previous administration established the legality of using the UNSC resolution to augment the President’s constitutional power to use military force and allow the President to engage in limited military actions, without congressional authorization, for actions such as humanitarian interventions or airstrikes.

  9. Congress could maybe take the case to court and get an order to stop, but how many divisions does the court control?

  10. Since several Presidents have engaged in military operations without congressional attempts to challenge the constitutionality of the practice, it leads one to think Congress has acquiesced to the executive’s power over the matter. So, suck on it bitches.

  11. Trump has even lost Alex Jones. Alex feels Trump has betrayed him and isn’t taking it too well.

  12. I’d like to point out that if you only oppose war actions on the basis of the irunconstitutionality–when they’re actions you oppose for other reasons–then you aren’t much of a constitutionalist.

    A real constitutionalist opposes an action only because it’s unconstitutional–despite agreeing with the action the president has taken. In other words, if the only time you oppose an unconstitutional action is when you disagree with it for other reasons, then you need to forgive people for not being able to tell the difference between you and someone for whom the Constitution doesn’t really make any difference.

    Within the context of an argument about whether Congress should authorize Trump to retaliate against Assad for the use of chemical weapons, I think congress should support that. If Trump didn’t get an authorization from congress, ten I oppose it.

    I would also like to point out that now is the time that Reason is likely to pay for selling the Constitution short since Trump was elected . . .

    What huh?!

    Yeah, the power to set the rules of naturalization (which covers the entire process of visiting here to establishing residency and becoming a citizen) are enumerated to congress in the same place as the power to declare war. If you’re holding up the Constitution as a reason to oppose Trump’s attack on Assad after you denigrated the American people’s right to representation on immigration through congress as specified in the Constitution, then shame on you!

    1. There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that says Congress or the President has to use that enumerated power to restrict immigration in any way or to any degree, ergo your conflation of these two issues is absurd.

      1. You don’t seem to appreciate that Reason staff (as well as regular commenters) have been arguing that immigration is a right since Trump was elected–like the right to freedom of speech or the right to freedom of religion–and, hence, that congress setting the rules for immigration is akin to congress setting the rules for religion. They’ve been arguing that democracy is not the appropriate purview for immigration policy–in spite of what the Constitution says.

        In fact, as I’ve argued in immigration threads, imposing an unpopular immigration policy on the American people is like imposing an unpopular war on them, which is why the power to set immigration policy is enumerated to congress in the same place as the power to declare war. Those who have argued against democracy in the Constitution’s separation of powers when it came to immigration have done a great disservice to the constitutional arguments against letting the president declare war.

        If the Constitution isn’t a good enough reason to respect congress’ power to set immigration policy, then what makes the Constitution so important when it comes to ignoring congress’ power to declare war?

        1. I don’t recall Reason arguing that, save perhaps by implication, but it is irrelevant to your attempt to create false equivalence between these two issues.

          Congress loosening immigration policy to any degree would be Constitutional.

          Trump’s Syria strikes are (allegedly) Unconstitutional.

          Ergo, a person expressing support for the former is in no way tantamount to expressing support for the latter.

          I also believe I do recall at least one writer here expressing criticism of Obama’s unilateral DACA policy, so I don’t see any basis for accusing Reason of wanting to go outside of Congress’s jurisdiction either. Nor did they (even Shikha! :o) support that DACA injunction.

          The only place I see them supporting flaunting the law is by the immigrants themselves and those private citizens who aid them, and that’s perfectly in line with libertarian attitudes about marijuana, regulation, sexuality, and everything else that ever created a black market. The US government’s actions have to be Constitutional, but private citizens are under no moral obligation to obey foolish laws.

          1. You’ve completely missed the forest for the trees.

            Denigrating the enumerated powers of congress in America’s imagination–because you don’t like them in one aspect–harms our case to the American people that the separation of powers is important per se.

            I’m not equating immigration with war. I’m equating the enumerated powers of congress. They’re either important because they’re in the Constitution or not. You don’t get to hold the Constitution up as a sacred text within the same breath as pretending they don’t matter if they get in the way on another issue–not if we want the American people to take us seriously.

            The power to declare war is more important than whether any particular war is desirable. In fact, I oppose wars I would support otherwise–specifically because they’re unconstitutional.

            The power of congress to set the rules of immigration is more important than whether I personally approve of any particular policy. In fact, I’m an open borders guy–but that doesn’t mean I have to denigrate the enumerated powers of congress.

            In fact, one of the reasons I might support constitutional polices I don’t like is because I want people to take me seriously when I oppose wars for being unconstitutional. Those powers are enumerated in the same place in the same constitution. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

            1. What part of neither I nor Reason are actually denigrating Congress’s enum-if-I-hear-this-one-more-time-I’ll-flip-erated power over naturalization outside of Ken Schultz’s imagination do you not get.

              We are not denigrating the constitutionality of nativism. We are denigrating nativism.

              1. Both Reason staff and regular commenters have repeatedly argued that free movement across borders is a right–that should not be subjected to congressional interference.

                Your protests to the contrary are beside the point.

                Since Trump was elected, I’m sure there have been more than a dozen threads about how setting the rules of naturalization does nothing to authorize congress to regulate immigration.

                Send an email to Dalmia asking her whether immigration is a right or whether honest libertarians can think the U.S. government is authorized to regulate immigration by Article I, Section 8.

                Go through the archives, and you’ll find dozens of regular commenters who agree with her–at least when they’re not thinking about something like whether they want Trump to bomb Syria without a congressional authorization. When that happens, suddenly Article I, Section 8 means exactly what it says.

                They should all be ashamed of themselves.

                1. My protests to the contrary have also failed to elicit any actual cites for your assertions, but I’ve realized that’s not actually what I really find so incredibly disingenuous about your argument.

                  No, the real bullshit is your assumption that people who believe immigration is a right are willing to violate the constitution to see that right recognized.

                  Exempli Gratia: I think that people have a natural right to use any drug they want. I also think that the constitution does not protect that right. And I think that federal law currently requires the federal apparatus to prohibit that natural right.

                  Obviously I want those laws changed. That much, you clearly can understand.

                  But it’s more than that: I think that drug laws are illegitimate. That they violate a “higher law”.

                  And yet I still don’t want the police to stop enforcing it.

                  Because I don’t want to establish a precedent of autocratic fiat. Because I don’t want the government to operate independently of the electorate.

                  Even though the will of the electorate violates natural law.

                  Now, replace “drug” with “Mexican” in that rant, and go rethink your life.

      2. Telecontar, The POTUS is required to ensure that the laws of the country are enforced. Securing the borders is a part of that. Restricting people from countries that potentially could be a threat to the US is a part of that. For at least 10 years with all of the fighting in the middle east and no way to properly vet people from that area of the world the POTUS has congressional authority to ban incoming travel from those nations. POTUS Jimmy Carter did it back in 1979 with a total Muslim ban from Iran. No one said a word, not even Republicans because it was the right and legal thing to do. Trump has not restricted immigration, it is you who are confused. Being in this country illegally is not a protected right. The only right illegals have is to be deported. Obama did not enforce the immigration laws, DACA is one good example. Obama changed the immigration laws without congress. Yet you said nothing. Why not??

        1. I, and Reason, did complain when Obama made that order, as is perfectly obvious from my last two comments in this thread.

          And in all of those examples you listed, the deciding authority had the constitutional authority to not restrict immigration too. Whether or not said restrictions were or are the morally correct policy is not being debated here. Whether or not a restrictive immigration policy is necessary to US security and prosperity is irrelevant to whether a non-restrictive immigration policy is constitutional: the constitution delegates and limits authority- it doesn’t dictate how that authority can, within said limits, be wielded. All it says is that Congress can set the rules of naturalization: it does not editorialize on how those rules ought to be set.

    2. I’d like to point out that you just reiterated and over explained the same basic point four times.

      1. I’d like to point out that there are more than a dozen regular commenters who will read what I wrote and still not understand it. There’s a good chance some will post responses to this comment who obviously misunderstand what I wrote as evidenced by their response.

        Hell, there are people in the other thread who are still sure that I support Trump’s unconstitutional actions last night–despite the fact that I called them unconstitutional and said that I opposed them on that basis numerous times. In their minds, you can’t oppose a war action for being unconstitutional if you’d support it with an authorization from congress.

        Wait and see. Saying the same thing four times wasn’t enough.

  13. I get the idea of opposing Trump on this decision, but aside from that, I’m trying to parse these ‘two fundamental elements of any hostile engagement against another nation: authorization from Congress, and a clear understanding of the mission’s aims’. Noting that also, ‘These are not mere technicalities’. I don’t think that Trump has done anything legally questionable here. Say that morally it’s disgusting, and I might consider it at least. But under the circumstances, I consider instead that it is not ‘reason’ to call this legally questionable. Maybe it wasn’t necessary, maybe it wasn’t the right thing for us to do. But why be silly, is it just to remind me that is always being silly? Consider me reminded.

    1. I figure that the relevant debate, here, pro and con, is about whether we need to conduct large-scale operations that will destroy Assad’s weapons-of-mass-destruction capability. Such an attack would eliminate Assad’s ability to commit chemical weapons atrocities. Trump has an opportunity to end Syria’s ability to massacre innocent men, women and children with weapons of mass destruction.

    2. I figure that the relevant debate, here, pro and con, is about whether we need to conduct large-scale operations that will destroy Assad’s weapons-of-mass-destruction capability. Such an attack would eliminate Assad’s ability to commit chemical weapons atrocities. Trump has an opportunity to end Syria’s ability to massacre innocent men, women and children with weapons of mass destruction.

  14. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, we better get our war songs written and performed as quickly as possible, because there’s no guarantee we’ll be around to write them after the war starts.

    Something like this:

    Sittin’ at home with my pecker out
    Choosing countries from the atlas is what I’m about
    Picked up the hot line, then dialed the 7 digits
    Iaid, it’s Syria, baby, are you ready to get in it?

    People always ask me why I bomb so much
    Maybe the answer is a simple “why not”?
    I’m always ready with my phone and pen
    I won’t tell the Congress if you don’t tell the UN

    You said it yourself, you like what bombs can do
    Now see what my heat-seeking missile can achieve for you
    Let me borrow a few billion, then attack without warning
    Rain destruction from above, ’cause me so warring

  15. “Syria’s gonna be bombed more than me and Rosie O’Donnell were that one night…”

  16. Art Bell is dead.

  17. We look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.

    can bring = today

    will bring = anyone’s guess, maybe never

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  19. The problem with the engagements since 9/11hasn’t been that they happened, but that we didn’t pack and go home once we were done with the part that could be accomplished with military force.

    We are at war. It would be convenient for a lot of peoples’ politicsl agendas if we were not, but we didn’t decide. Radical Islam has a record hundreds of years long of acts of terrorism and banditry unless they were being stepped on. They haven’t been effectively stepped on much since before WWII.

    1. You make a good point, I’ll just note:
      We’re at war with radical Islamism (whether we want to be or not, as you mention) – not Russia.
      Assad and Russia are also at war with radical Islamists.
      Maybe something to think about

      1. Radical Islamists blow up a few crowds and shoot up a few concerts. Russia is threatening to militarily annex NATO member states. The threats are, at a minimum, equal. And if they unequal, then the priority clearly goes to the latter, to those not blinded by ethnic sectionalism.

        1. Maybe you can provide a quote to back up your claim that Russia is threatening to annex anybody, let alone NATO members? The only sources I’ve heard for such dreck are hysterical global socialists who believe in top-down rule “for your own good”.
          But who am I to question the most honest of men (let’s ignore the orchestrated coup in Ukraine) John Maidan McCain and butt body George Nazi-collaborator Soros?

          1. The only people who believe that the Ukrainian Revolution was orchestrated by the eeeevil US are rabidly anti-American radical leftists and conspiracist ethno-nationalists. Yanukovych was ousted because he was a embezzling coward who arrested his political opponents and defied his people by trying to move Ukraine back into Russia’s sphere of influence after centuries of oppression, then ordered his troops to slaughter protesters when they resisted. Feel free to explain how the CIA managed to “orchestrate” 1,000,000 protesters showing up in the capital square, though. I guess they must have hired a lot of buses.

            And for “quotes” regarding the continuing efforts of the Russian Federation to reacquire domination over its near-abroad, see here and here. Of course, I’m sure the latter are just being paranoid. Not like they live there or anything.

  20. US, UK and France bombed Syrian chemical weapons facilities after advance warning that allowed human evacuation. No human casualties were reported as of 14 Mar 2018, but there was considerable material damage. All three military targets under question were successfully hit with minimal collatoral damage to civilian personnel or materiel. Nancy Pelosi called it a “brutally inhumane crime” and Vladimir Putin dondemned it as an “act of agression”. Both critics attacked Trump but did not attack UK or France.

  21. “Basically, it’s just like every other military engagement since 9/11” is a pretty damn stupid statement.

    First, Afghanistan and Iraq were explicitly authorized by Congress, so both the actions reasonably close in time to 9/11 don’t fit. All the other strikes by George W. Bush similarly didn’t stretch the terrorism AUMF very far, since they had Al Qaeda targets. The first military strikes by the US after 9/11 that weren’t plausibly authorized by Congress were undertaken by Obama, which is to say many years after 9/11.

    Second, there were all sorts of military engagements by previous presidents that weren’t authorized by Congress before 9/11 (invasion of Haiti, bombing of Bosnian Serbs, missile strikes on Iraq to protect Kurds, Operation Desert Fox, the missile strikes in Afghanistan and on a chemical factory in Sudan, the bombing of Serbia). The same was true of the first Bush (Panama, for example), Reagan (e.g. Libya), and Carter (the failed effort to rescure the Iranian hostages by military force).

    So a not-stupid version of the statement would note that every president in the last 40 years except George W. Bush did this sort of unconstitutional bullshit, rather than using a date that implies this bullshit started under George W. Bush.

    1. Tricky with that “L” there. Genuinely confused for a second.

      1. Most of the right-wingers around here pretend to be libertarians.

        They’re generally bad at it, fooling only themselves.

        One of them pretends to be me.

        I can’t fault that one too much, though — aspiring to be like your betters is a natural and admirable thing.

        1. True. You should try it some time.

    2. Agreed, but that wouldn’t allow Reason’s crack crew of Top Men (and Women) writers to spew the Big-L line, would it.

  22. Congress could put a time limit and a geographical limit on an AUMF.

    For example, Iraq and two years from the time the AUMF is passed.

    And include a penalty for violating the terms of the AUMF. For example, make it a felony for the President or a military commander to violate the terms.

    Of course, that would require the Congress to demonstrate some backbone.

  23. Well, unless you’re a cynic, in which case the goals are quite obvious: distract from domestic threats to the administration.

  24. “…since 9/11…”
    I seem to recall several instances in the former Yugoslavia in the 90’s; you shouldn’t forget about them.
    And was there a Declaration of War prior to Gulf War One?
    Or, Grenada?
    Oh, but the later two were when Democrats controlled Congress, so they can’t be held responsible.

  25. Seems to me that could save alot of money by having a Dictatorship. Congress doesn’t do anything but give handouts to their wealthy donors

  26. The toddler got out his rattle and started bashing it against the side of his cot, unlike Trump he will grow out of it.

  27. All the brainless idiots who say the president can’t order his military forces into action without Congressional pre-approval, are dead wrong.
    He is the Commander in Chief, PERIOD!
    The Congress can declare war, but that’s it. They don’t have the power to follow through and order troops into action.
    I love how the morons in the article try to conflate declaration of war with “any hostile engagement against another nation”. That’s not the same thing as a declared war.
    Notice how often we have instituted military action, without a declaration of war – something the Congress hasn’t done since the 40’s.
    Declaring war is an administrative action, not a military one. Shit, Congress has declared war on poverty, on drugs, on how many other things? Did they sent in the troops?
    Get a grip.

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