When the Syrian regime gasses its own people, the US responds with a missile strike — a pattern America has become used to. Without congressional approval, are these strikes legal?
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy claimed that Former President Barack Obama didn’t think he had the authority to order strikes without approval, and President Donald Trump is the origin of this policy. But that’s not the case. Obama did believe he had the power to unilaterally strike Syria; so did President George W. Bush, and so does Trump — but they’re not necessarily right.
Obama, Bush and Trump all pinned their actions in the Middle East on the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress in 2001 after 9/11. But it’s questionable whether a 17-year-old document authorizing the war in Afghanistan also allows Obama to put boots on the ground in Libya and Trump to send missiles into Syria.
Presidents acted unilaterally even before the 2001 AUMF, however. Former President Bill Clinton initiated military operations in Kosovo, and Former President Ronald Reagan sent troops to Grenada without congressional authorization. The reality is Congress hasn’t formally declared war since World War II.
What’s really happening here is Congress has stopped asserting its authority, and the congressional approval attack has become little more than a partisan tactic used by parties when they’re out of power. Democrats used it against Bush; Republicans then used it against Obama; and now that Trump is in power, it’s the Democrats turn again.
While it’s not exactly an honest solution, it’s likely to stand until Congress learns to throw its weight around and reign in the Executive.
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