Trump is hardly the first president to use the military however he likes without bothering to ask permission from Congress, which has the constitutional power to declare war. U.S. participation in the Saudi campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the target of last week’s War Powers Act vote, may be appalling on humanitarian grounds, but it is less direct than the bombs and missiles that Barack Obama deployed against Muammar Gadafi’s regime in Libya.
In that case, Obama claimed the War Powers Act did not apply, because blowing up Libyan targets did not qualify as “hostilities.” The argument was so laughable that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel advised against it.
Obama, like Trump, launched missiles into Syria without congressional approval to punish President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons in that country’s civil war. The unauthorized U.S. involvement in Syria, which Trump says he wants to end, began under Obama, who as a candidate admitted “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.”
Trump, like Obama, was a critic of executive overreach until he had the opportunity to engage in it.