Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Trump Wages War Wherever and Whenever He Wants

The unauthorized attack on Syria shows Congress won’t enforce limits on the president’s military powers.

The day before Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on three sites tied to chemical weapons production in Syria, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it clear that the president needn't worry about getting permission from Congress. "He has the authority under the existing AUMF," Ryan said, referring to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."

That eyebrow-raising assertion—which seemed to suggest that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had helped Al Qaeda, his archenemy, crash jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—was striking evidence of Ryan's cognitive dissonance. He and most of his colleagues are happy to let the president do whatever he wants with the country's armed forces, as long as they can pretend that Congress is still ultimately in charge.

As much as Ryan might like us to believe otherwise, last week's attack on Syria, which was a response to the Assad regime's use of chlorine (and possibly sarin) against rebels in Douma on April 7, had nothing to do with 9/11. By Trump's account, the 105 missiles fired from American, British, and French aircraft and ships were aimed at creating "a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons," which he declared "a vital national security interest of the United States."

Members of Congress may or may not agree with that assessment. But under the Constitution, which gives Congress the power "to declare war," it was their call to make.

That, at least, was the position taken by Donald Trump in 2013, when Barack Obama was weighing a missile attack on Syria in very similar circumstances. "Obama needs Congressional approval," Trump tweeted back then.

It turns out Trump meant Obama specifically, not the president in general, certainly not when the president happens to be Trump. But that double standard seems only fair, since Obama played a similar trick.

As a presidential candidate in 2007, Obama declared that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." As president, Obama did that very thing, repeatedly.

Mike Pompeo, at the time a Republican congressman from Kansas, tried to curtail Obama's unilateralism, opposing his unauthorized intervention in Libya's civil war and urging legislators to play "our constitutional role" by voting on a resolution approving the use of military force against Assad. Pompeo, currently Trump's CIA director and his choice to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, seems to take a different view of the president's military powers nowadays.

"For a long time, multiple administrations have found that the president has authority to…take certain actions without first coming to Congress to seek approval," Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing last week. "I don't think that has been disputed by Republicans or Democrats."

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—one of the few legislators who has consistently demanded that the president, regardless of party, respect the constitutional limits on his powers—could not let that slide. "It was disputed mostly by our Founding Fathers, who believed they gave that authority to Congress," Paul told Pompeo. "The fact that we have in the past done this doesn't make it constitutional, and I would say that I take objection to the idea that the president can go to war when he wants, where he wants."

Make no mistake: That is the power Trump is asserting. "As our commander in chief," Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared the day of the missile assault, "the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests."

Since the president alone defines those interests, this understanding of his authority as commander in chief effectively expurgates the War Powers Clause from the Constitution. Pusillanimous lawmakers like Ryan are supplying the correction fluid.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Power corrupts.

    The founders realized this, which is why they set up checks and balances. Modern people don't get this. They don't understand why it doesn't matter if they elect a Trump, an Obama, a Clinton, or even a Mother Teresa. Give anyone unchecked power and they will abuse it.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    We have no ideological diversity in our education system, and what you are pointing out is the result.

  • jelabarre||

    ...why it doesn't matter if they elect a Trump, an Obama, a Clinton, or even a Mother Teresa. Give anyone unchecked power and they will abuse it.

    Just the mental image of Mother Theresa personally sticking her boot up Bin Laden's ass...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    One difference from Obama putting US troops into Syria is that Trump announced that US troops will be leaving Syria and be replaced by Arab troops.

    The sooner US troops are out of Syria, the better.

  • Get lit||

    Obama's policy was always to use a native ground force to defeat IS in Iraq and Syria. And that's what happened an Arab and Kurdish force (SDF) was created under Obama to play the part. The only difference between Trump and Obama is that Obama relented under pressure from Congress and the American people before attacking Assad whereas Trump did not, twice now.

  • Just Say'n||

    What fantasy world do you live in DanO? The only good thing that Trump has done in Syria is end the CIA funding of the opposition and instead focus on defeating ISIS. But, because Trump is dumb and his policy understanding superficial, he allowed the foreign policy establishment to convince him that ousting Assad was somehow in America's best interest.

    Get lot with a book, because you make no sense

  • Eman||

    "Get lot with a book" is one i haven't heard before.

  • Get lit||

    My understanding is that the CIA had trouble finding reliable moderate locals to arm to fight Assad but the effort was never an impediment to fighting IS in Syria. It wasn't like they were diverting resources from the fight against IS to fight against Assad and Trump stopped it and marshaled all the resources to fight IS alone. I hate to even respond to you or that Constitution fool because there's no winning with idiots.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    U.S. Practices Wartime Evacuation of Americans From South Korea
    In a low-key conflict simulation, about 100 civilian volunteers are being flown from South Korea to Dallas via Japan

    WSJ Americans evacuated from South Korea in exercise.

  • Eman||

    Look maybe it made sense to ask Congress for the go ahead when wars were conducted with like lances and sailboats but it's 2018. By the time w President could get permission from Congress we could already have lost a war. its not just unrealistic but dangerous and, one might even say, dark to not let ourselves adapt to a changing world, no matter how uncomfortable it makes those old white guys perched at the top of our power structure.

  • Wizard4169||

    Yeah, we're going to be overrun by Syria any day now.

    Most acknowledge the authority of the President to respond to an imminent threat, but that's hardly the case here. Syria has zero ability to threaten us, even if they're gassing people right and left. (Which is highly questionable all by itself.) When the Prez wants to launch a war against someone who isn't actually invading or at least attacking the US, he sure as hell needs congressional approval.

  • ||

    /sarc off?

  • Dizzle||

    Really, it's the old failures like hihn, the baby boomers, and gen x that have let this all go to shit over the years.

    But well act like snowflakey millenials that only live in relatives basements and only voted in 3-4 presidential elections tops are the bane of our society.

    I say fuck all the old people and gtfo or die. You ruined things and won't even accept the blame.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Yes, because blaming others doesn't result in exactly what you are complaining about...

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    Don't put this on me. The fact is that most of you neurotypical muggles are so weak and stupid, regardless of your age that it is an achievement if any of you can sustain a train of rational thought for an entire minute at a time. Also, most of you can't be bothered to do any real research into these subjects, or develop a perspective outside of your own stunted inner monologues.

    So far, Trump is doing ok relative to his last several predecessors. Though few people here will give him credit, because they're more interested in whining about their distaste for his personality, as opposed to making an objective analysis of his actions, and the logical alternatives.

    Considering that The Hag would be telegraphing a war with Russia, we should be grateful that this is the extent of our military involvement in Syria at present.

  • MikeP2||

    Nothing new for the last 50 years, but "OMG, CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS"

    I, frankly, prefer this narrow targeting of facilities, with advanced warning to avoid loss of life, to the prior administrations drone attacks on wedding parties and Americans overseas.

    But yeh, I guess that makes me a Trumpista or some BS like that.

  • jbsnc||

    You can't mean that Trump is doing what numerous presidents have done before him? The Congress declared war against Japan on December 8, 1941. Please list the number of millions or hundreds of thousands dispatched to in part kill, wound, damage and destroy people in foreign lands without a Declaration of War. Include the minor ones such as Korea and Viet Nam. Only maybe 1/2 million, a million? How many? The Constitution piece by piece is becoming a joke but we have saviors like you!

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    Oh, Boo-Hoo!

  • u got review||

    FastEye Pages Review
    FastEyes page is a latest SAAS platform that is designed to support you in design sites, and landing pages. It will present you to build top converging pages to improve profit although you have no expertise and experience.
    https://bit.ly/2EU3mNm

  • mpercy||

    Did Trump or did Trump not comply with the War Powers Act? That law, which itself may be unconstitutional, seems to be the current standard for military actions. It requires the President to "in every possible instance...consult with Congress before introducing [armed forces] into hostilities", and requires Congressional notification within 48 hours of any such actions. It allows such actions to continue for 60 days without Congressional approval.

    Congress long ago punted on their desire to have control over declarations of war, and provided methods for Presidents to engage the military in minor actions (police-actions?) without a declaration of war.

    Obama did it plenty. Trump has now done it.

    At least Bush got a Congressional approval before the Afghanistan and Iraq "wars", which weren't really wars and instead were the less-stressful-to-Congress " use of military force".

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    He should have gotten congress to put their rubber stamp on this one, If for no other reason than the democrats would be forced to take a position on it now.

  • pemaintoto||

    Lihatlah mungkin masuk akal untuk meminta Kongres untuk pergi ke depan ketika perang dilakukan dengan tombak dan perahu layar, tetapi itu tahun 2018. Pada saat itu Presiden bisa mendapatkan izin dari Kongres kita sudah bisa kehilangan perang. bukan hanya tidak realistis tetapi berbahaya dan, bahkan bisa dikatakan, gelap untuk tidak membiarkan diri kita beradaptasi dengan dunia yang berubah, tidak peduli betapa tidak nyamannya hal itu membuat orang-orang kulit putih tua itu bertengger di puncak struktur kekuasaan kita.

  • prediksi hongkong||

    Dunia fantasi apa yang Anda tinggal di DanO? Satu-satunya hal baik yang dilakukan Trump di Suriah adalah mengakhiri pendanaan CIA dari oposisi dan malah fokus pada mengalahkan ISIS. Tapi, karena Trump bodoh dan pemahaman kebijakannya dangkal, ia mengizinkan pembentukan kebijakan luar negeri untuk meyakinkannya bahwa menggulingkan Assad entah bagaimana demi kepentingan Amerika.

  • u got review||

    IM Coaching Series 2018

    IM Coaching Series 2018 is one of the most wonderful training masterclass that supports you to pick a computerized 6-figure profit within 10 weeks. Kevin Fahey allows you to develop traffic generation, effective online company, checklist building, associate advertising, item development and also top-ticket sales. IM Coaching Series supports you to grow your firm swiftly to six figure. Marketing professionals can generate more matched to million dollars in sales. It is specific ten week group training program established for all type of firm owners. You will find out how you can change your interests into earnings. IM Coaching collection 2018 is the verified formula for internet success. Every training course will definitely supply in between fifteen to thirty two training videos, PDF, Checlist, Mindmaps, as well as a lot of extra.
    https://bit.ly/2qIpjdw

  • ||

    This has been true since Korea, keep up with the times Jacob.

  • Liberty Lover||

    "Trump Wages War Wherever and Whenever He Wants" So did Obama, So did Bush 2, So did Clinton, So did Bush 1, so did Reagan, So did Carter, So did Nixon, So did Johnson, So Did Kennedy, etc, etc, etc. So what is your point?

  • prediksi hk||

    I do not understand what his purpose is like that, does he not want peace?

  • jaastark||

    great post thanks for sharing this wonderful post
    tutuapp apk
    tutuapp for mac

  • prediksifajar||

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online