Congress abdicates authority over Syria

Another national security event and another failure by the American government, specifically Congress, to follow the Constitution. Friday night’s strikes in Syria, despite being “limited,” are another example of the House and Senate abdicating authority to the executive and weaken the separation of power concept the founders put into the hallowed document.

The Constitution is explicit in its language on which branch of government has the power to enter the United States into an armed conflict with another nation. Article I, Section 8 writes, “Congress shall have Power…To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” No other branch of government has the right to get American soldiers involved in war, despite claims by presidents, congressional members, and pundits otherwise. The fact presidents, starting with Harry Truman, started going around Congress to get the U.S. involved in wars is execrable.

Yet, Congress also deserves criticism for not asserting its power more when it comes to keeping the U.S. from going into war. The State Department’s archives detail a July 1950 meeting with Truman and then Senate Majority Leader Scott Lucas on whether a resolution declaring war in Korea was necessary (emphasis mine).

Senator Lucas said that to go up and give such a message to Congress might sound as if the President were asking for a declaration of “war.

The President said this was exactly the point. He said that he had not been acting as President but as Commander-in-Chief of our forces in the Far East.

Senator Lucas reported that the President would be practically asking for a declaration of war if he came up to the Congress like this. On the other hand a fireside chat with the people would be good. He said the document itself was wonderful. He would merely leave out the paragraph on the top of page 14…

The President said that it was up to Congress whether such a resolution should be introduced, that he would not suggest it. He said it was not necessary to make the decision today and that he too was just thinking out loud…

Senator Lucas said that he felt he knew the reactions of Congress. He thought that only (Senate Minority Leader Kenneth) Wherry had voiced the view that Congress should be consulted. Many members of Congress had suggested to him that the President should keep away from Congress and avoid debate. He thought a debate on the resolution might last at least a week.

No resolution on whether the U.S. should go to war in Korea was introduced in Congress, and it’s been downhill since then. At least President George W. Bush got the authority from Congress to go to wa-sorry-Authorisation for Use of Military Force in Afghanistan and Iraq, although the text of the former has been used to allow the U.S. to keep its eternal “War on Terror” going. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested President Donald Trump didn’t need to get congressional authority on Syrian airstrikes because of the 2001 AUMF.

The problem with Ryan’s statement is the fact there’s no real concrete evidence tying the Syrian government to terrorist groups, although there are defectors who have claimed otherwise. A part of me wonders if Ryan made this statement because all he can do is point to the 2001 AUMF if the U.S. gets more involved (since we’re already involved in Syria) in a quagmire in Asia. This way it can’t be used by anti-war candidates to hit at any Republicans or Democrats who voted on a war resolution. It’s kind of a smart cop out by Ryan, but still atrocious policy.

The second problem is the text of the 2001 AUMF in general which gives the executive broad power, “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

There’s an even larger problem in all of this: the fact political parties seem wont to disagree with leadership on military actions. Lucas, a Democrat, told Truman most people in Congress were okay with the U.S. going into Korea without a resolution declaring war. Ryan, a Republican, said the 2001 AUMF gave Trump the authority to go to war in Syria. Michigan Congressman Justin Amash went a step further on Friday to point out this political hypocrisy.

The amusing thing is Congress would probably approve a vote for war in Syria with only few elected officials disagreeing with the strikes. The prevailing belief in Washington, DC is the U.S. needs to be world police and protect the world from itself, so there’s no reason why a resolution couldn’t be offered up. There’s no reason for the U.S. to be involved in Syria, even if it’s limited strikes which will slowly get larger and larger before even more ground troops are involved, something the Pentagon is still considering. It’s fine if Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Yemen, et al want to be involved Syria. America has no business participating in military action in Syria at all. All Syria is doing is proving war never changes, and no one should get involved in a land war in Asia.