Fox News, the network President Trump wakes up to every morning before he begins his now legendary tweets, has posted an op-ed by Robert Charles, a former assistant secretary of state for President George W. Bush and a former naval intelligence officer.
Mr. Charles writes Trump had all the constitutional authority needed to attack Syria on Friday.
“President Trump’s action to attack Syria was exceptionally well-grounded legally. Self-evident moral authority supports using any reasonable means to protect innocents from the moral outrage of chemical weapons,” he writes.
“Still, critics in Congress demand President Trump defend his Syria action and come to them for permission,” Charles continues. “They want, it seems, to further limit the president’s already limited ability to use the U.S. military to defend our nation, forcing him to get their authorization for what he did and any strikes that may lie ahead.”
This line of reasoning completely distorts the intent of the founders. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution designates the president as “commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States,” that is to say the president will direct a war after it is declared by Congress. The only exception to this is when the nation is suddenly attacked, which certainly wasn’t the case with Syria, or for that matter Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, and a number of other lesser conflicts.
Thomas Jefferson pointed this out in no uncertain terms. In 1801 he said the president is “unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanction of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense.”
James Madison understood the executive will abuse its power and use it to engage in unconstitutional wars.
“The constitution supposes, what the history of all governments demonstrates, that the executive is the branch of power most interested in war, and most prone to it. It has accordingly with studied care vested the question of war in the legislature,” he wrote to Jefferson.
Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention in 1787 make it plain the Framers were adamant—Congress, as the representatives of the people, must decide on war, not the executive.
Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center summarizes.
“Unless fending off a physical invasion or attack, the president is required to get a Congressional declaration of war before engaging in military hostilities in another country,” he writes.
Mr. Charles’ defense of Trump’s illegal and immoral bombing raid of a sovereign nation is straight out of the neocon playbook—twisting the Constitution into a pretzel and throwing the War Powers Act in for good measure.
His argument rests on that unconstitutional resolution passed in 1973 over the veto of President Richard Nixon. It gives the executive 90 days to do whatever he wants before answering to Congress.
The War Powers Act (WPR) “is profoundly unconstitutional because it cedes Congress’ constitutional war-making power to the president,” writes Judge Andrew Napolitano. “The WPR was an ill-conceived political compromise effectuated by a Watergate-weakened president, congressional hawks who approved of Nixon’s unilateral invasion of Cambodia and sober congressional heads more faithful to the separation of powers.”
Some Democrats are crying foul over Trump not going to Congress to get permission to bomb Syria under false pretense. But they don’t have a leg to stand on. It’s partisan politics as usual. They didn’t complain so loud when Obama flattened Libya and killed its leader or when Bill Clinton bombed the hell out of Kosovo and the Serbs.
Article II, Section 2 has not functioned properly since Truman and the creation of the national security state. It’s a dead letter. Congress cannot be allowed to decide if the nation goes to war—that’s now the exclusive privilege of the ruling elite, the oligarchy, the plutocracy of bankers and corporations.