Can We Please Start Seeking Congressional Authorization to Fight Wars as Our Constitution Demands?

It doesn’t get any more right when it’s “our” side that does it:

All of this is true, but it’s also true that the President launched the attack without approval from Congress and no clear and present danger to the United States or our allies.

The precedent for going to war under these conditions was set by the previous Administration, but that doesn’t mean that the current Administration should necessarily follow it.

It was wrong for Obama to intervene in the Syrian Civil War without even so much as consulting Congress when Obama did it, and likewise Trump should seek approval from Congress if he’s going to continue it. If he can’t get approval from Congress, that should say something.

I do think the President can act without Congress in the face of clear, immediate threats, and Assad might be a butcher, but we ought to demand our elected leaders follow the law.

UPDATE: For the comments: how many of your lefty friends on social media are acting like Obama hasn’t been bombing targets in Syria for several years now?

31 thoughts on “Can We Please Start Seeking Congressional Authorization to Fight Wars as Our Constitution Demands?”

  1. I am torn.. All those people killed from chemical weapons. Going to Congress to publicly get permission to do a humanitarian response. Time is ticking and chemicals being moved? (John Kerry said they didn’t have any, right?)

    I have dumped many/most of my ideologically oriented, Trump hating social media friends. My blood pressure could not take it any longer.

  2. Hear hear! And the lefties in my feed are strangely silent.

    I hate that the Syrians are dealing with a monster but at the same time, the Syrian civil war is a mess with not one thing worth American blood and treasure. Bomb Assad and help ISIS. Bomb ISIS and help Assad. There is no good choice…

    1. [after playing out all possible outcomes for Global Thermonuclear War]
      Joshua: Greetings, Professor Falken.
      Stephen Falken: Hello, Joshua.
      Joshua: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?

      1. If only all sides were run by computer. Meanwhile, back in reality, not playing just gets you killed.

  3. It was an act of war not committing the US to war in Syria That is the difference. Obama already has US troops in Syria so we have already violated it’s sovereignty.

    The question is a measured military response commits us to war? Not in our minds.

  4. Agreed. Been beating this drum since the Bush days. But nobody cares anymore, sadly.

    1. Oddly enough, I seem to recall Obama not standing up to Syria the first time, even after drawing the red line, is because he couldn’t get congressional approval. My mind is a bit fuzzy on the details though — I can’t remember which Party had congressional power, nor can I remember how hard of an effort the President made to convince Congress to go along.

      The funny thing is, if this really is important, it shouldn’t be hard for Trump to either make the case to Congress, or act immediately and then make the case that more action may be needed….

      Sadly, one reason I’m not angry about Trump making such an attack is that I’m too tired to worry. Granted, this may be in part because of work and lack of sleep…but a huge dose of it is being tired of the Media and the Courts being so offended at every little thing they think they can fling in Trump’s face.

      I remember being concerned that the Media’s constant hysteria over every little thing means that they won’t be able to oppose Trump on the big things. I think this is a hint that the Media really is having that effect.

  5. Agreed, Sebastian. I also wonder why it’s been ok for Assad to slaughter hundreds of thousands of his own people, including women and children, with bombs and bullets while we stood on the sidelines, but now that a few hundred were attacked with chemical weapons, all of a sudden some “line” has been crossed that requires our intervention. My gosh, the hypocrisy of it all! When Mr. Trump started playing the emotion card about how seeing the twitching and suffering children made him change his mind and intervene (even though children had been slaughtered by bombs, disease and starvation by Assad for years previous), I realized he was little different than any other leader we’ve had who acts on feelings rather than on the law of the land. I was expecting better from Trump.

    Respectfully, Arnie

    1. “I realized he was little different than any other leader we’ve had who acts on feelings…”

      Seriously, you heard the tone of his voice, but you believed the “emotion” and “feelings” about “little babies” was authentic? And that’s why he acted?

      You might see some genuine emotion from that mega-narcissist if he was watching a Trump Tower burn down, but not much else. Even then he’d be thinking about the insurance.

      He acted on a) the certainty that making a military show would increase his popularity, or, b) because his Russian handlers told him to, to accomplish a). They’ve been getting worried about him.

      Before the end of the day today, planes were operating out of that air base again. Whose idea was it to make a big show out of not really doing any damage?

      1. You make good points, Whetherman. If the emotion was real, it should have kicked in years ago seeing the hundreds of thousands of dead and fleeing refugees. But it didn’t. Although I’m not sure about your point (b) because it seems incongruous that the pro-Assad Russians would be ok with Trump attacking an Assad airbase; however, I must concede the damage was limited and the Russian “outcry” was relatively muted, so (b) is possible. But your point (a) is clearly in the realm of probability and I suspect likely the case.

        Btw, I always enjoy your historical research in your comments on this blog. You must do a lot reading, and I am as jealous as I am impressed!

        With sincere respect, Arnie

        1. “the pro-Assad Russians”

          A minor semantic quibble, Arnie: The Russians are never “pro-” anyone but themselves. They’d prefer Syria become part of the Russian Federation, (and, eliminate all those nasty Syrians) but since they can’t get there overnight, for now they’ll prop up a hand-puppet named Assad.

          But, the POTUS is a much bigger fish, and if all it takes is maybe, replacing a handful of Syrian aircraft (thereby routing nice profits to some Russian oligarchs) to make him look “presidential,” and consolidate such influence over him as they may have, they’ll make that choice in a heartbeat.

          With regard to “reading”: I’ve spent a lifetime doing it, ranging from, using an hour-plus commute in both directions when I worked in industry, to, filling my time with it since I’ve retired. That’s a lot of years, and it would be sad if I hadn’t retained something.

          Anyway, thanks for the kind words. I appreciate the quality of your posts, too.

  6. My analysis, briefly is, the Russians got exactly what they wanted from the chemical weapon attack.

    Trump had to do approximately what he did — which on balance was pretty weak tea — but as a result, even leftie talking heads who were excoriating him and calling him a national embarrassment 24 hours ago, were this morning praising his International Acumen and Statesmanship. If it was possible to do an instant poll right now, you’d probably find Trump up 10 – 15 points in the public’s regard, from yesterday.

    Getting tough and kicking ass (or at least, blowing some shit up) will do that for a struggling leader. I remember cheering LBJ’s response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident — which may or may not have actually occurred.

  7. This isn’t a recent thing. Reagan did it. Both Georges did it. So did Clinton and Obama.

  8. 1. How many Americans can find Syria on a map?
    2. How many Americans care about the plight of Syrians?
    3. How many of those who say they do care would be willing to have refugee neighbors?

    I don’t really care about 100 dead Syrians and I sure as hell don’t think we should be involved with anything that’s going on there, and never should be we taking Syrian refugees into this country.

    1. “How many of those who say they do care would be willing to have refugee neighbors?”

      Would I get to choose which of my current neighbors they replaced?

  9. A couple points you all have missed.
    Trump is NOT a politician, but you are still expecting him to act like one.
    Why are so many of you following the Dems playbook on why they lost: “the Russians Did It!!!” You mean to say that the Democrats were so incompetent at their own job to win, including their normal voting fraud systems, that an outsider entity beat them at it? You think they haven’t been trying to find some sort of evidence to prove it?

    Do you recall the news video with the IAF general pointing at a couple of jets with painted bombs slung under their wings, and commenting that if any of those SCUD missiles (that Iraq was tossing around at everyone) hit Israel with an NBC warhead, they fly? You think that warning has expired? They are thought to be #4 in the nuclear warhead count, BTW. They could turn all the important spots in the M E into glow-in-the-dark parking lots, and still have enough left to be a credible threat to most everyone else.
    It is suspected that this is why Trump decided to give Assad a wake-up call with those 50 missiles.

    1. “Trump is NOT a politician, but you are still expecting him to act like one.”

      Do you mind if I just ramble out loud for a bit?

      When someone is in a political position, I want them to act like a politician. Which means, doing the mental calculations of how to keep everything from spinning out of control. Pretty much the alternative is, to act like a dictator. But then, even dictators have to do the calculation, whether they have enough people with enough force on their side to defend against all the factions that are going to resist their commands.

      First in the military, then in industry, I experienced commanders/managers who thought their nominal, rule-book ability to have things their way just because they commanded it and had the power to kick ass, was all that was necessary to make things work, their way. It was never a formula for long-term success, as it wasn’t long before the grunts began to deliberately subvert their efforts. So when people say they’re looking for someone in a political position who’s “not a politician” I know what they mean, ethics-wise, but I’m not sure they know what they’re asking for.

      (To include one of my historical examples, what really brought U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War to an end was, the inability of our commanders to command troops to do as they were told. With a protracted war, veterans were educating their younger brothers and cousins on how the system really worked, before they got there, and for the most part, commanders were “not politicians.” Face-saving ways out needed to be found. Also, the draft was ended not for any ethical considerations, but simply because it stopped working.)

  10. Had he informed Congress, it would have “leaked” in 30 seconds giving the Russians time to move missile defenses into place near the air base.

    How long do you think it would take Congress to approve (if ever)?

    The attack would have failed and once again the US is shown as an inept paper tiger.

    1. Here’s a fundamental constitutional question, though: What defines “constitutional,” what the constitution says, or, whether obeying the constitution prevents you from achieving your desired outcome? Or does it cease to matter whether an action is constitutional, if it achieves a desired outcome?

      Here’s a hypothetical I’ve been pondering since the start of this thread: Suppose a general/admiral (or lesser officer) had refused the order of the POTUS to carry out the attack, on the grounds that the authorization of congress was a constitutional necessity, and therefor the order was not a lawful order, and must be refused?

      What would have happened?

    2. First, they already alerted the Russians before the attack, so you’re theory is bunk based on that alone.

      Second, just because the Constitution gets in the way doesn’t mean you ignore it. Otherwise we get the current doctrines on the Second and Fourth Amendment which nearly mean they are worthless.

      1. 30 minutes warning wasn’t enough for them to move anything significant. I agree that Congressional approval would have been good, but I suspect Trump had already taken a sense of the leadership first.

        1. “I suspect Trump had already taken a sense of the leadership first.”

          And he has shown all along he has neither knowledge of nor concern for the constitution.

          Here’s another question to ponder: Which is worse, a president who understands the constitution and schemes carefully to circumvent it, or a president who has no knowledge of or concern for it at all, and violates it out of a combination of ignorance and personal convenience?

    3. A congressional authorization of force doesn’t need to be “we authorize the President to bomb Shayrat airbase at noon on Sunday.” But I think it would be nice to engage Congress to seek approval for hostilities in Syria. Bush might have fucked up Iraq for a good bit, but at least he got the OK from Congress before doing it.

      1. “A congressional authorization of force doesn’t need to be “we authorize the President to bomb Shayrat airbase at noon on Sunday.”

        Maybe it should. Maybe not quite that specific, but also not as open-ended as congressional authorizations seem regarded to be. Maybe a constitutional amendment is called for.

        I do not recall fondly what grew out of congress’s authorization of war powers for LBJ, following the alleged Gulf of Tonkin Incident.

        Prior to that, at least an excuse for a non-declaration of war was thought necessary for the Korean War; we were participating in a UN “police action,” and not a war. By the time Vietnam rolled around, a mere congressional authorization was thought sufficient to prosecute a war that went on for almost another eleven years and was not supported by much of the western world. Today we’re riffling through old folders to see what prior authorizations may have made Trump’s action in Syria legal, and ridiculing the last president for not acting without clear congressional authorization. I don’t like the evolution I’ve been watching.

  11. As to the Constitution I believe it says says Congress can wage war. But the mechanism to enforce that is the funding from the Congress.
    However we now have a standing army, not really constitutional and a defined budget , that the DOD can use for whatever it wants per the President commands.

    To how that it relates to this strike. I do not think it does. The President has the authority to make limited strikes. However if he plan to change policy to involve ourselves more deeply in the Syrian civil war I thing Congress has to approve.

    That would be a mistake. The Assad civil war is really a subset of the Sunni/ Shia civil war across the entire region So this leads to massive escalation.

  12. “The President has the authority to make limited strikes.”

    I would argue, only in the case of countering an immediate, physical threat against the United States.

    I’ll make up a deliberately silly example: If a POTUS ordered a limited air strike against Toronto, on the grounds that someone there had said something mean about the U.S., would it be regarded as constitutional? If that’s too silly, how about if Canada had interned some of its families for some reason, and some of the children had died?

    I made that deliberately silly to make the point that there is a lot of subjectivity between a Pearl Harbor and a Syrian air base that is not threatening the U.S. Which is why for anything much short of a Pearl Harbor, congressional authorization must be required — and some say is required.

    1. I forgot to add to my earlier “Vietnam” example, that the war was prosecuted on the foundation of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution; but by 1970 some people in congress were making noises about repealing that Resolution. But Richard Nixon said that was OK, because as POTUS he didn’t need no stinkin’ approval from congress, and that fighting a war was within a president’s authority.

      Just a comment on the way things tend to evolve.

    2. “I would argue, only in the case of countering an immediate, physical threat against the United States.”

      You know, if I could guarantee that only your friends, family, livelihood, etc. would die to establish the level of threat, I’d accept that argument. Let me know when the real world is like that.

      1. “Let me know when the real world is like that.”

        Try, now.

        Assad killing his own people is not an existential threat to the United States. He killed many times more with his gas attack in 2013, than this time. Both our Executive and Legislative branches let it slide in 2013. During the next four years the congress could have passed a resolution and an authorization for action, and they didn’t.

        But Assad doing a fractional replay of the scenario this time resulted in a unilateral Executive response, while the congress played Three Monkeys. Surely if four years of inaction were justified before, the week or so it would take to achieve congressional authorization this time would not do much harm.

        Of course that “week or so” assumes a congress not made up of 100 percent cover-our-ass, take-no-responsibility-for-anything-that-can-be-dodged pussies like we have sitting on both sides of the aisle.

        That’s the “real world” we Americans refuse to deal with, and the real existential threat the nation faces.

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