President Trump stunned the country when he unilaterally ordered a massive missile strike on an Assad regime airbase in Syria. It was a dramatic departure from his proclaimed desire to stay out of messy conflicts in the Middle East and put “America First”. The action also directly conflicted with several critical tweets that Donald Trump sent out in 2013. He excoriated President Obama for considering military action against Assad and demanded the President seek Congressional authorization. While a lot has changed for him in four years, the Constitution hasn’t. Furthermore, Rand Paul says that even the War Powers Act doesn’t give President Trump the authority to bomb Syria.
As we all know, the Constitution supersedes all laws that have been passed by Congress. It is the supreme law of the land after all. Therefore, the War Powers Act is definitively unconstitutional because it takes away the power to declare war from the Congress and allows the President to conduct military operations independently. Despite that obvious usurpation, the law hasn’t been reviewed by the Supreme Court and remains in use as a common neocon justification to this day. Nonetheless, the War Powers Act does place some basic limits on what the President can accomplish without Congressional authorization:
the War Powers Resolution… clearly states criteria under which the president may act – a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by an attack on the United States.
That’s it. Absent those criteria, the president has no authority to act without congressional authorization.
None of those situations apply to this situation. Congress has not declared war on the Syrian regime, they have not passed a specific statutory authorization, and there has been no national emergency created by a Syrian government attack on the United States. Rand Paul is right to say that the War Powers Act doesn’t justify President Trump’s cruise missile strike.
Now that that has been established, Rand Paul is demanding that the President appear before Congress to request a formal declaration of war. The proposal will have to be debated by the members of the Congress and all of its merits and drawbacks discussed. That is what the Constitution demands. President Trump’s attack on Syria is unconstitutional and he cannot be permitted to repeat it in the future. Congress needs to reassert their authority to declare war once and for all.