Republicans (and Democrats) are scrambling to justify their new found support for (and opposition to) bombing Syria. Meanwhile, Rand Paul is keeping it simple and sticking to his principles. The Kentucky Senator has been on a media tear since President Trump unconstitutionally attacked a Syrian government airbase. He is demanding that the administration makes a formal request for war authorization. Paul has already explained why the War Powers Act doesn’t apply in this situation. This isn’t a high hurdle for the administration but rather a bare minimum. After all, Rand Paul pointed out that even George Bush came to Congress for authorization for the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.
The Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were complete and total disasters that destabilized the entire Middle East but they were authorized by Congress. Although neither one received a formal Declaration of War the Constitution does not specifically require such a measure. It is simply states that “[The Congress shall have Power…] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;”. Traditional Declarations of War are preferable given their specificity but authorizations of the use of military force (AUMFs) have become more common since the World War II. Nonetheless, the power to declare war firmly remains in the hands of the Congress.
These Congressional authorizations for war are critically important. Even George Bush of all people recognized that. The merits and drawbacks of military action need to be debated by our elected representatives. There needs to be a clear plan beforehand as well as an agreed upon exit strategy. Furthermore, the executive should not have the power to take unilateral action. Our system of government was designed to prevent that from taking place. Finally, the people have a right to know why their government would take them to war. They have a right to know which of their representatives is for or against it. Such knowledge is critical for determining which representatives deserve reelection.
President Trump sought no such authorization for attacking the Syrian government. No matter what his defenders say, sending nearly sixty cruise missiles into a sovereign country is an act of war. Rand Paul doesn’t think it’s too much to ask that the President clears the low hurdle of getting Congressional authorization. If the brother of low-energy Jeb Bush can accomplish such a task it shouldn’t be a problem for President Trump’s fantastic and terrific administration.