Trump does not have the authority to go to war in Syria
CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA LEE | 4/20/2017, 12:44 p.m.
Just days after the September 11 attacks, Congress voted to give President George W. Bush legal authority to take military action against the perpetrators of the terror attacks and associated forces. As the lone vote against this authorization, I believed that it would be used as a blank check for endless war.
Sadly, in the past 15 years, we have seen this blank check used over and over by now three presidents. The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, as it is known, has become a catch-all justification for military action in the Middle East and around the globe.
A few years ago, I asked the Congressional Research Service to put together a report of all unclassified operations authorized by the resolution since its passage. The report found 37 instances of its use, including warrantless wiretapping, detentions in Guantanamo Bay and drone strikes in places such as Somalia and Libya. Most recently, the resolution has also been used as the authority for the president to deploy troops in Syria.
This blank check has allowed Congress to abdicate responsibility for the ongoing U.S. military action in the Middle East—and has inappropriately shielded members of Congress from taking tough votes on matters of war and peace.
This abdication is not what our founders intended.
The Constitution explicitly vests Congress with the authority to declare war and appropriate money for conflicts, while the president serves as commander in chief.
When President Trump authorized unleashing 59 Tomahawk missiles on an airfield in Syria last week, he both ignored the Constitution and dragged us deeper into an intractable and dangerous conflict. Even the overly broad 2001 resolution cannot be properly construed to allow unilateral military action against a sovereign nation in these circumstances. And although the president reported to Congress that the strikes were “consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” he did not justify his actions under it. Instead, he claimed constitutional powers that belong to Congress.
There is no question that Syrian President Bashar Assad must be held accountable for his heinous crimes against humanity. And the world community must do more to prevent the use of chemical weapons and barbaric attacks on innocent men, women and children.
The tragedy unfolding in Syria only underscores the importance of humanitarian aid and investments in the United Nations. Sadly, Trump has spent his first two months in office vilifying refugees, cozying up to Vladimir Putin and urging Congress to slash our budget for foreign aid.
Right now, the president’s strategy appears to be dragging our troops deeper into war, while turning away vulnerable families fleeing conflict and violence.
Most disturbingly, if Congress does not act to rein in the president, he will pursue unsanctioned military action without our input.
House Speaker Paul Ryan needs to call back Congress into session immediately so we can debate the costs and the consequences of war in Syria. We also need to demand a diplomatic, political and economic coherent strategy from the Trump administration before we commit more resources or American lives to this conflict.
If there has been any overriding lesson from our Middle East interventions, it’s that we can’t bomb our way to peace.
It’s past time to bring this debate to the House floor.