Guest Opinion: Congress must have say in war-making

​The Orange County Register
April 13
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President Trump’s decision to order 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria last week does nothing to bring stability to that country, protect American national security or strengthen our position in the world.

It does, however, continue an unfortunate trend of American presidents committing acts of war with hardly even the pretense of legal protocol or long-term geopolitical strategy.

Ostensibly in retaliation for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons which killed upwards of 100 people, American cruise missiles were fired on the airbase believed to house aircraft that carried out the chemical weapons attack. Undoubtedly the use of chemical weapons is reprehensible and the pictures which surfaced in the aftermath were simply heart wrenching.

President Trump argued that the strikes were in the “vital, national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” That means the American response appears to have been more symbolic than anything practical.

But whatever the impact of the strikes, President Trump ought to recall the words of candidate Trump: “The president must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria — big mistake if he does not!” he tweeted in August 2013. “President Obama, do not attack Syria,” he warned on Sept. 7, 2013. “There is no upside and tremendous downside.”

If there is anything we should have learned from our prolonged involvements in the Middle East and North Africa in recent decades, it’s that toppling governments and bombing sovereign nations without an overarching strategy doesn’t serve our national interests. Fighting and instability continue to plague Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, despite — and in part because of — our aimless interventions.

“While such operations and interventions are well-intended,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said following the Syria strike. “They should only be undertaken after serious consideration and approval by the elected representatives of the American people, ensuring that public accountability on war-making decisions exists.”

Last week’s strikes are a reminder that many of our interventions today have gone on without explicit Congressional authorization or even sensible limitations. Sens. Lee and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have introduced legislation requiring the president to seek congressional approval before using military force in response to humanitarian catastrophes. That would be a good start.

As convenient at it might be for the Congress to leave war-making to the whims of whoever is president at the time, such abdication only minimizes accountability while facilitating perpetual war abroad. In order to prevent further, unchecked escalation of American involvements in Syria, any future actions against the Syrian government must be authorized by the Congress.