April 23, 2018
For the past seventeen years, the United States has been engaged in several military conflicts, primarily, but not exclusively, in the Middle East. Most recently, the United States worked in concert with British and French military forces, allies and NATO, to strike targets in Syria. This response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons was an appropriate use of force well within the bounds of the authorities granted to the President of the United States in Article II of the Constitution.
The strike was conducted in direct support of international laws that have banned the use of chemical weapons since their widespread use during World War I. However, the Syrian people continue to suffer from violence and Assad’s illegal use of sarin and chlorine gas. In addition to the recent military response, a similar military reprisal was directed by President Trump in April 2017. At that time, the target was Syria’s Shayrat air base, which was the origin of the sarin nerve agent used by Assad to murder innocent men, women and children of his own people. He has not been deterred.
Bashar al-Assad is an unfit dictator who continues to enjoy the support of both Russia and Iran. Iran’s involvement in Syria has increased in intensity since the conflict began and continues to provide the Syrian government with crucial ground support. Russia has supported the Syrian regime even though it has guaranteed that Syria’s commitment to get rid of chemical weapons will be met. The most recent choice of targets was carefully made for their connection to the presence of chemical weapons in Syria rather than striking at Assad himself or to diminish Iran’s presence in the country. The United States and its allies were justified in their swift response and delivered a clear message to Russia and Iran for supporting the brutal Assad regime.
Going forward, the United States must link military operations to a definitive strategy that has public support. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has been on record asking for as much and believes our service members that are in harm’s way deserve nothing less than the explicit backing of Congress in furtherance of military operations. Simply put, Congress must explicitly provide the authority to “declare war” or, in the context of the post 9/11 era, use military force.
Since 2001, the U.S. has engaged terrorists and insurgencies across the Middle East under an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress on September 14, 2001. It granted the President the authority to use all necessary force against nations and terrorist organizations that planned or committed terrorist attacks. A second AUMF was passed on October 11, 2002, which gave the President additional authority to defend the United States against continuing Iraqi threats and to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions relating to Iraq. However, we cannot keep the American military engaged in conflict in areas outside the original scope of authorities without Congressional debate.
I continue to urge the Congressional Leadership to allow debate on establishing a new AUMF in relation to Syria and other conflict zones around the world. The President and his military advisors should have maximum flexibility to strategize and confront our adversaries, but Congress should also fulfill a constitutional role when committing our troops to military engagements. If we seek to put our men and women in uniform in harm's way, a clear mission must be delivered to them. An AUMF will give them that.