Issue in Focus
Oct 18 2019
In August 2013, one year after he said Syria would be crossing a “red line” if they used chemical weapons in their civil war, President Obama formally asked Congress for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Assad regime.
Despite testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry promising that there would ne no United States troops on the ground in Syria, Congress decided not to vote for any authorization of for the use of force against Syria.
But then, starting in late-2014, that is exactly what happened: U.S. troops began moving into Syria. Today there are approximately 1,000 troops in the country.
Under our system of government, the U.S. Constitution placed the power to declare war – or otherwise authorized use of military force – in Congress. And this was no accident on the part of the Founders: they placed this important power in the legislative branch because it is the branch of the federal government most accountable to the people through frequent elections.
This was a significant break from our previous system of government under British rule. Under the British model, the king, as chief executive, had the power to unilaterally declare and take the country to war; and the Parliament’s role was simply to follow orders and figure out how to fund it. This was specifically not supposed to be the case in the American Republic.
Yet unfortunately, for decades we’ve had a Congress – consisting of Republicans, Democrats, senators, and representatives – who have allowed the legislative muscle to atrophy. Again and again they have declined to exercise the power to declare war, instead deferring blindly to whatever President is in office, saying “let the President decide what we do there.” We have, through our own inaction, essentially relinquished this grave responsibility.
Why does this matter? It matters because in doing so, we have deprived the American people from having any say in the matter. And when we send their brave sons and daughters into harm’s way, we owe it to them to have an open, public, and robust discussion in which we make a deal with them and outline the terms of our engagement.
We did not do that – and we do not have that – in Syria.
And some are rightfully upset about that. But if they truly think we should be engaging in war in Syria, then they have the ability – and the constitutional duty – to bring up a proposal and debate it in Congress.
President Trump’s decision to withdrawal troops from northern Syria was completely lawful. There is no question that it’s a horrible situation. And there’s no question that there are people running both Syria and Turkey who are not our friends and who have shown significant hostility towards us. It is precisely because of that – and not in spite of it – that we should not be there.