Syrian civilians were reportedly gassed in April 2017, killing 80, and again in April 2018, killing 70. President Trump responded to the first with 60 Tomahawk missiles on one location. And to the second bombing, three separate locations said to have been development or storage sites were targeted. In neither of the two gassings are we indisputably certain that Assad was responsible for the attacks?
Protecting our "national security interests" (wordage not found in the U.S. Constitution) is the phrase most used to justify both U.S. attacks. Side-stepped entirely is the fact that only Congress, under Article I, Section 8, has the constitutional authority to "declare war," but globalists argue that these bombings are not "real war," only limited war, for which the president possesses authority under Article II as "commander and chief." But bombing a sovereign nation twice without provocation to the United States is an act of war. No such argument could be made were Moscow or Beijing bombed. So, an act of war is now considered constitutional if the victim country is too weak to defend itself.
Unfortunately, this interpretation can only come from intentionally misrepresenting Article II: "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." Only Congress has the power to call the military into actual service.
Other than conducting the war once declared, all military powers are housed as common defense under the legislative branch of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clauses 9-17). These include all power to declare and finance war, raise armies, "make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces," and even determine the land that the military may use for training purposes. Nothing was omitted.
Under the Constitution, there can never be an unpopular war as the peoples' representative (The House of Representatives) has total power over raising and funding the army. They must consent to the war by declaration (because they provide blood and brawn for it) and they alone authorize the treasure for it. "All bills for raising revenue shall originate" with the House of Representatives (Art. 1, Sec. 7, Cla. 1).
Moreover, Congress was to monitor the war at two-year intervals through its power of the purse just described. "But no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years" (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cla. 12). If Congress is not happy with the progress of the war, it can require the generals and the president to account for why total victory has not yet been obtained and reduce or enlarge funding, with time restraints, to keep them on a short leash with respect to the war declared.
Why did the president get none of these powers? Because he "had the most propensity for war," James Madison argued in the Constitutional Convention. Kings traditionally had sole war power. Not so under the Constitution. One man would never have such power. A declaration of war gave clarity to a war's beginning, and victory or defeat its only ending. It could never be a casual thing as it has become.
Both major architects of the Constitution, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, were clear on this subject. Madison wrote Hamilton, "the executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war." Hamilton wrote in The Federalist #69 that the president's powers are confined to "the direction of war when authorized or begun."
Constitutionally, the military functions under Congress, not the president. The president's power to make war (outside immediate self-defense as in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor) can only follow the legislature's power to authorize war. Congress declared war on Japan the following day.
World War II was the last declared war, so how did we lose such constitutional clarity allowing us to denigrate from invasion to justify war to "national interests," which could be almost anything? It happened incrementally. It is the old adage that one perversion justifies another. Both the Korean and Vietnam wars were United Nations wars wherein the globalists argued we needed no declarations, being a part of a higher authority, the UN.
When the UN was not the major justification for war, globalists next favored working through coalition forces, which inferred that agreement among participating nations that a country was deserving of punishment justified acts of war. Requiring congressional approval for limited war would stifle flexibility. This could be made constitutional in public perception provided they enlarged the concept of "commander and chief" well beyond the original intent, while simultaneously excluding constitutional wordage "when called into the actual service" and dismissing entirely all the war powers listed for Congress. Who really reads the Constitution anyway? The few who do could be "drummed" out by the ill-informed majority.
Coalition forces were employed in Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf Wars, then ISIS, but coalition countries, too, eventually grew tired of perpetual war and began declining to participate to the point that only Great Britain and France were willing to provide warplanes against Syria. War technology also advanced sufficiently to administer punishment without boots on the ground. Such was the case with Syria earlier this month. None of this changes the fact that there exists no constitutional authority for the president to bomb another country without congressional approval.
Harold W. Pease, Ph.D., is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for more than 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 04/25/2018
Print Headline: President has no constitutional authority to bomb Syria