Late Thursday evening on April 6, news broke that President Donald Trump gave the order for a missile strike in Syria in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack on civilians that took place earlier in the week. Even as the U.S. and the world come to grips with the news, one huge question lingers: Did Trump have congressional approval for the Syrian missile launch? And if he didn't, then how was it possible that the missile strike even took place?
According to CNN, the United States launched between 50-60 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian government airbase believed to be from where the Syrian warplanes carried out the chemical attacks. In a statement shortly after the news broke, delivered from Mar-a-Lago, Trump said the following of the decision to strike:
Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.
There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention, and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically.
Though Trump made clear to evoke God in his statement, nowhere in his remarks did he mention conferring with Congress before putting U.S. troops and resources squarely in the thick of Syria's Civil War. It prompts the obvious question: did he he have permission to do it?
Here's where things get murky. According to the website for The Daily News, Trump didn't explicitly say one way or the other whether he had authorization to order the strikes. But just because he didn't exactly get a yes or a no — or even discuss the issue with Congress — doesn't mean he did anything illegal. According to the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed on Sept. 18, 2001, just a week after the attacks on Sept. 11:
The president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
According to this authorization, and one passed a year later in 2002 that authorized a "use of force against Iraq," it would appear that Trump may have been able to snake the authorization through under the notion that the U.S. and its allies were directly threatened by the use of sarin gas against the Syrian people. But not everyone agrees. Shortly after Trump's statement, Senator Rand Paul tweeted:
And although Senator Chuck Schumer agreed with the president's action in Syria on Thursday, he made clear that the president's ability to work with Congress before moving forward on military action is prudent for the future. With that, it makes it sound like Trump decided on military retaliation on Syria without consulting Congress.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone agreed that Trump's decision to act without Congress was in poor taste. Delivering a joint statement on the matter, Republican Senator John McCain and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said:
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.
We can all agree that images of innocent men, women, and children suffering at the hands of their own government in a merciless, cruel way is absolutely unforgivable and disgusting, but it's important to remember that the U.S. has a system of checks and balances for a reason. I would never wish to be president in a time like this — especially with so much venom pulsating throughout the world — but we can't ignore this: Trump has a duty to the people he serves and the Constitution he upholds. And tonight, I'm not sure he succeeded in doing so.