Starting from common ground – everyone agrees that the videos and images of the chemical attack in Syria were horrific. The world watched in real time as people laid in the streets, foaming at the mouth and struggling to breathe. Loss of innocent human life isn’t something anyone wants, and when those of us who live in safety see the realities of the world for our fellow humans, we feel the need to do something about it.
This appears to be the line of thinking that Donald Trump had as he informed the nation that in response to the chemical attack, the U.S. had launched 50+ cruise missiles at the air force base thought to be the home of a plane that sprayed Syrian civilians with sarin gas. Unfortunately, like his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump went around Congress and disregarded not only the War Powers Act of 1973, but the United States Constitution itself.
In 1973, Congress was beginning to get fed up with the President seemingly having all authority to declare war with anyone at anytime. The War Powers Act was written to clarify that it is Congress’s job to declare war – not the President’s – and that the President needs to at bare minimum tell Congress his intentions 48 hours prior to acting. The Act has been violated multiple times, by Democrat and Republican presidents, and no legal recourse has ever been handed out.
The War Powers Act simply doesn’t go far enough. The Constitution clearly states that it is a power of Congress to declare war. The only possible exception is when the country is in a state where a formal declaration is impossible – for instance, if America was being invaded. This hasn’t been the case ever in the 20th century, and certainly not in the 21st century. In fact, the last time Congress officially declared war was during WWII in June of 1942.
The power to declare war was given to Congress because the founders believed that meddling around in other countries was unwise, and if it had to be done, there needed to be open debate and discussion before a decision is made. That discussion was to be had within Congress, because it is Congress who is most directly linked to We the People at a federal level. It was up to Congress, the representatives of the American people, to have the final say. The fact that President after President has discarded the Constitution in this right should be appalling to all Americans, regardless of party.
The reason to have open debate for going to war should be obvious – to keep America out of unnecessary wars. The facts of an event, such as the one that took place in Syria this week, need to be laid out to the American people themselves, before any kind of retaliation is done. The case here for debate is painfully obvious – we don’t actually know who attacked the innocent civilians in Syria. Their government denied it. Russia questioned if it even happened. Members of Congress have even questioned exactly what happened. If Congress doesn’t even know, then what right did Trump have in jumping the gun and launching a missile strike?
Only a handful of Congressmen have taken issue with Trump’s decision. Others though either quietly approve of the move, or loudly applaud it. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called the U.S. attack “appropriate and just”. Representative Mac Thornberry said, “I support the President’s decision to take military action in Syria.” Of course, John McCain and Lindsey Graham jointly stated that Trump “deserves the support of the American people.” This is not just wrong – it is Congress openly abdicating their responsibility to do their jobs and hold a vote to formally declare such attacks.
Trump, who never campaigned on obeying the Constitution, did campaign on staying out of battles in the middle east and letting the region sort itself out on its own. The Iraq War was a mistake, and Trump was right about that, but he misses the point – all meddling in foreign nations has unintended consequences. U.S. interventionism has played a large role in destabilizing the middle east over four decades, and someone ought to take note that continuing the mistakes of the past will only hurt the stability of the region more.
Now, the new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is working on forming an international coalition to remove Bashar al-Assad from power. The question that needs to be asked but isn’t – and then replace him with who? Regime change never ends well, it doesn’t help the region, and it doesn’t do anything to help American national security. If America wants to overthrow the President of another country, will the decision be Congress’s or Trump’s?
This move by Trump to bypass Congress, trample the War Powers Act, and disregard the Constitution is something that, yes, is an impeachable offense. Until the American people wake up to the fact that the executive branch has been overreaching its Constitutional authority for decades, the wars will not end, and major change to foreign policy will never be seen.