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The news that President Donald Trump authorized the U.S. military to strike a Syrian chemical manufacturing facility is hardly surprising. Even without the potential incentive to distract the news media from Robert Mueller’s investigation and the next phase of James Comey’s “Buy My Book!” tour, almost any president would want to strike at Bashar al-Assad after his repeated uses of chemical weapons on his own people—especially his country’s children.
And yet, there is something deeply troubling, or something that should be troubling, about the president’s willingness to start a war on his own authority. Make no mistake, launching missiles at a dictator who is backed by Russia is the equivalent of starting a war, and it quite obviously raises the stakes of our ongoing confrontation with Russia.
Activity - Syria - Forces - Conflict - Forces
Why is this problematic? Most obviously, because our increased military activity in Syria makes it more likely that our armed forces will end up in a shooting conflict with Russian forces which could quickly escalate into a much larger war. But the deeper problem is one of constitutional justification. The Constitution is quite clear that only Congress has the authority to declare war. The Founders deliberately used the phrase “declare war” instead of “make war” for two reasons. First, they did not want Congress to think that it was in charge of actually directing a war effort. No one wants generals taking orders from a committee. Second, they wanted the president to be able to respond to sudden invasions or rebellions—to act in national self-defense.
Despite this, both Trump and his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, have initiated “small” wars without consulting Congress. Obama dodged the constitutional requirement when he began a war in Libya by relying on the fiction that it was a “military kinetic action” rather than a war, and that it was authorized by...
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