On Friday, April 13th, the US, accompanied by the UK and France, punitively conducted strikes against Syria in response to the recent use of chemical weapons that killed at least 42 Syrian civilians. Of course, many people, ordinary citizens and lawmakers alike, immediately rushed to Twitter and Facebook to allege that President Trump violated the Constitution and War Powers Resolution by not seeking Congressional Approval in doing so.
First and foremost, I want to succinctly state that I disavow the strikes. I don’t feel as if any US interests, such as military bases or allies, were in any imminent danger as a result of the chemical-attacks. That being said, Trump did not violate any law in conducting the strikes.
The War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 much to the chagrin, and veto (that was emphatically overrode) of Richard Nixon, explicitly states that the President must not commit any US troops to any imminently-dangerous situation without first consulting with Congress. This is to discourage any de-facto declaration of war by the President; NOT to prevent any president from acting in limited-fashion to any certain situation, such as, oh I don’t know, a preemptive strike to disable any further use of mass-casualty weaponry.
The Resolution also gives the President “leeway” to act on any “emergency” situation without Congressional consultation. This is how literally every one of Trump’s predecessors since 1973 have subverted the Resolution.
Many compare Trump’s immediate predecessor’s action with Trumps in efforts to claim that Obama was more obedient to the Constitution when intervening in Syria to fight ISIS in 2015, since he sought Congressional Approval in doing so; that claim is also unhinged.
While I commend Obama for seeking Congressional consultation before committing troops to fight ISIS in Syria, the simple fact of the matter is that he A.) didn’t need to, as the Authorization of Use of Military Force gave him permission to do so without congressional consensus, and also because B.) if it weren’t for the AUMF, Obama would have needed Congressional Approval for the simple fact that he was declaring war.
Trump was not declaring or instigating war by collaborating with Macron and May on the strikes. He was simply exercising the ambiguous rights given to him by the War Powers Resolution.
If Trump dispatches additional troops to Syria without seeking Congressional consultation and its subsequent approval, then he, in all likelihood, will be disobeying the intent of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution, unless the US or any of its allies become subjected to any immediate physical danger. Until then, Trump is not in violation of the law.