Was Trump Within His Authority to Order Syrian Air Strikes?

A U.S. Navy image shows the USS Ross (DDG 71) firing a tomahawk land attack missile at the Syrian air base 

A U.S. Navy image shows the USS Ross (DDG 71) firing a tomahawk land attack missile at the Syrian air base

Everyone is in agreement that Assad’s use of Sarin gas was a deplorable thing to do. What they can’t agree on is whether or not Trump had the authority to initiate such action. A number of Republicans have voiced their opinion in regard to the air strikes Trump ordered on Thursday night; some heaping praise on him while others admonish him for lacking the authority.

What does the Constitution say?

Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 states that Congress shall have power:

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

Article II, Section 2, states the President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

In 1973 Congress passed the War Powers Resolution. The War Powers Resolution requires that the President communicate to Congress the committal of troops within 48 hours. Further, the statute requires the President to remove all troops after 60 days if Congress has not granted an extension. Congress intended to halt the erosion of Congress’s ability to participate in war-making decisions.

Senator Rand Paul said,

While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked. The President needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate. Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different.

Make no mistake, bombing Assad means the United States is fighting on the same side as ISIS and other radical Islamists in Syria.  This is a dangerous and morally wrong policy.

But no matter your view of the merits of engaging in Syria, every member of Congress should stand up today and reclaim our Constitutional authority over war.”

(Senator Paul had a lot more to say about this, which can be read here.)

House Speaker Paul Ryan stated-

Earlier this week the Assad regime murdered dozens of innocent men, women, and children in a barbaric chemical weapons attack. Tonight the United States responded. This action was appropriate and just. These tactical strikes make clear that the Assad regime can no longer count on American inaction as it carries out atrocities against the Syrian people.”

The Bobblehead twins, John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in their statement,

We salute the skill and professionalism of the U.S. Armed Forces who carried out tonight’s strikes in Syria. Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs. ‘Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action. For that, he deserves the support of the American people.”

Senator Ted Cruz said,

Today, after eight years of Obama foreign policy failures, Syria is a humanitarian disaster. Bashar al-Assad is a monster, a puppet of Russia and Iran, and he has once again used chemical weapons against his own citizens, murdering innocent men, women, and children.

Our prayers are with Assad’s victims, and with the victims of the ISIS and al Qaeda terrorists ripping Syria apart. And, as always, our support and prayers are with the brave Americans in uniform who carried out the military strike tonight.

Any military action in Syria must be justified as protecting the vital national security interests of America – including decisive action to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of radical Islamic terrorists – and I look forward to our Commander-in-Chief making the case to Congress and the American people how we should do so in the days ahead.”

Today, Trump sent the following letter to Paul Ryan, which I’ve copied from Greta Van Susteren’s Facebook page:

April 8, 2017

Dear Mr. Speaker:

At approximately 8:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on April 6, 2017, at my direction, United States military forces in the Mediterranean Sea, operating beyond the territorial sea of any state, struck the Shayrat military airfield in Syria. United States intelligence indicates that Syrian military forces operating from this airfield were responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province, Syria, that occurred on April 4. I directed this action in order to degrade the Syrian military’s ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons, thereby promoting the stability of the region and averting a worsening of the region’s current humanitarian catastrophe.

I acted in the vital national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. The United States will take additional action, as necessary and appropriate, to further its important national interests.

I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution (Public Law 93-148). I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.


Donald J. Trump

Does Trump’s letter to Paul Ryan satisfy the 48 hour requirement in the War Powers Resolution or did he exceed his authority by not seeking permission before he ordered the strike as Rand Paul seems to think?


Categories: Political

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8 replies

  1. I’m no expert on this issue, but it’s my understanding that the president has the ability to act unilaterally if he believes that it’s in the interest of the U.S. to do so. Continuing aggressions would need to have congressional support, but he does have limited authority to act without congress.


  2. I think the question of whether or not Trump was acting within his authority is a bit tricky. He did not officially declare war and it seems like it would be hopelessly bureaucratic to expect a POTUS to go to congress for every missile strike, and yet any strike COULD be the impetus for the start of a war, and starting a war does require the approval of congress. A good lawyer could argue it either way, IMO.

    My problem is that personally I don’t see a direct strategic interest to the U.S. here except in the sense that we’re sending a message to all other nations (and some in particular) that the U.S. is under new leadership and is going to be the boss of the world’s playground once again. There’s definitely some value in asserting that position, but I think the real reason Trump called the strike was because he was morally offended by Assad’s heinous behavior, and he tried to make the “strategic interest” case after the fact. Is the U.S. going to police the world against all immoral acts by tyrants now? Will our soldiers be called upon to risk their lives so that Donald Trump can punish that which he finds morally reprehensible? Those are the questions we need to ponder.


    • It is tricky, and apparently it’s one of those unstated gentlemen’s agreements that’s been in effect since the days of President Washington, so long as it’s a one time only type thing.

      Agreed that it would be a nightmare if the president had to get Congressional approval for each & every strike. It would totally eliminate any element of stealth or surprise, and imo, it seems like those decisions would be better left to our military instead of politicians.

      But. If it’s acceptable for any president to order up a single strike when he deems necessary, what’s to stop him from ordering one for North Korea? Iran? Somalia? They’re using different methods, but they are all killing people too.

      This action allowed Trump to strut his stuff and remind the world that O is no longer in charge, and maybe Assad got the message that gassing your own people won’t be tolerated by the US. Assad’s use of that gas proved that Syria didn’t get rid of the WMDS and that made O, John Kerry and Susan Rice look all the worse. Other than that, I don’t see much value in it.


  3. I had my doubts as to the correctness of this attack by our navy. Where is US security interests on this attack. (Although it oculd be said that somehow stopping this war might deter Islamists from Syria from coming to America. My gut says it was wrong to do from our Contitution’s perspective.

    BTW, did you know that many on twitter are totally convinced that this entire chemical attack on Syrians is made up? They are so convinced that our government has made this up and the CIA is in cahoots.
    I wonder…


    • I wasn’t clear on the extent of his authority, but after listening to all these guys and to our own Crawfish, it’s a little clearer now.

      The attack is made up? They don’t believe it actually happened or what? Sometimes those guys on Twitter (and elsewhere) don’t know what they’re talking about. All those dead bodies should be their first clue.

      It’s good to hear from you – I been missing you!


  4. Many Presidents have ordered strikes or raids for immediate situations and as punitive actions without going to Congress for permission or a declaration of war. This dates back to our Founding Fathers.


    • True that, Crawfish, but just because it’s been done by many presidents doesn’t necessarily mean it’s Constitutionally correct, especially prior to 1973, does it?

      I’m thinking the only reason that Trump is in the right is because of the gray area in the Wars Power Resolution. It doesn’t specify that Congress has to be notified prior to calling the strike – it simply says within 48 hours.


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