Trump’s bombing of Syria was good, but how he used the military in this case was bad.
Why was it bad, and what’s the right way to do it? He did it as if the military is something he can use based strictly on his own decision, as if America is a corporation and he is the CEO. The better way would be for him to remember that he is not king, merely president, the person tasked with administering the U.S. laws and government. He is president of a democracy with a multi-part government.
Personally, I think it’s good to make Assad and the Syrian government, or any government, pay a price for using chemicals on its people. The better to discourage it. And I find no conflict between Trump’s desire to leave Syria, yet inflict a price for this.
The constitution is not very clear about the limits in these cases. It declares the president is commander in chief, but says Congress is the one to declare wars. Certainly the president can immediately use the military to, say, stop an invasion. Congress declared a War Powers Act after the Vietnam War, but it’s validity is debated and it has never been concluded in court. There was the congressional authorization created in response to the attack of 9/11, but this bombing falls outside of that.
But the minutia of law is not the question here. The question is what is right. The president should try to make such actions as unified as possible. Talk to leaders in the House and Senate. See if there can be a fairly unified agreement. See if they want to make a formal vote of preapproving the action, or if they have other suggested actions or factors the administration hasn’t considered. That Trump included allies in this is good, but he needed to include more of America too.
After the last gassing in Syria there was conflicting evidence whether it was the Syrian government or rebels trying to set up the government to provoke international reaction. Maybe Congress would like to give six months for inspectors on the ground to verify what happened first. Quick action is good, but accurate action is better.
Obama was too equivocal about many things but he did give the order to retaliate after a chemical attack during his time, conditional on congressional approval, which they wouldn’t give him.
It can feel good for us and for the president if he acts quickly on something like this. Somebody bad did something horrible and we’d like to trounce them, and the president did that. Take that!
But especially with this president who thinks the presidency is a CEO position, and also for future presidents of unknown judgment, doing it this way is a bad idea. The possible consequences are just too grave. A cavalier president could endanger the country by creating a new enemy, or take some action almost no one agrees with, or trigger the start of a whole new military slog in a region where there blessedly is no such conflict now. I agree with Trump wanting to push back on Assad’s use of chemicals, but we very much need to push back on this or any president thinking they can just strike whenever and wherever they want.
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Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at tomcantlon.com.