Perhaps unsurprisingly, Congress and the White House are at yet another constitutional deadlock, this time over how the United States should proceed in the ongoing civil war in Syria.
Quite rightly, President Trump is hellbent on keeping his campaign promises to withdraw U.S. forces from foreign military entanglements. Congress — in a fit of rare bipartisanship — meanwhile, warns of doom and mayhem if the United States vacates the region, leaving our longtime allies the Kurds to certain annihilation by the Turks and others.
Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, issued a Twitter message Wednesday saying: “News from Syria is sickening. Turkish troops preparing to invade Syria from the north, Russia-backed forces from the south, ISIS fighters attacking Raqqa. Impossible to understand why @realDonaldTrump is leaving America’s allies to be slaughtered and enabling the return of ISIS.”
Anyone wishing for the return of the “good ole days” when our system of checks and balances were kept robust by regular fights among the three branches of the federal government — regardless of party control — should be thrilled by these developments.
It is true that Mr. Trump won the 2016 election on a blatant non-interventionist — bordering on isolationist — foreign policy platform, at least when it comes to military force. This position — long popular among Democratic voters — has become increasingly popular among Republican voters as they grew frustrated with the seemingly never-ending, costly commitments overseas. (It is ironic, indeed, that politicians in Congress are unified in favor of such a conflict just as regular voters of both parties are unified against them.)
In a Twitter message of his own, Mr. Trump declared: “Fighting between various groups that has been going on for hundreds of years. USA should never have been in Middle East.” And, in a tone ripe for one of his campaign mega-rallies, he added: “The stupid endless wars, for us, are ending!”
It is also true that the Kurds have been valuable allies in not only Syria but also elsewhere throughout our nearly two-decade military campaign through the Middle East. And, to be sure, Mr. Trump’s decision to desert the Kurds will undoubtedly lead to the death of many Kurds, including innocent civilians, women and children. Moreover, Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria will almost certainly weaken the civilized world’s campaign against radical Islamic terrorism and embolden those who wish to destroy the civilized world.
Despite Ms. Cheney’s understandable hand-wringing over the regrettable situation with the Kurds in Syria, she and her suddenly unified fellow legislators in Congress hold the answer to this constitutional standoff. And it is a fairly simple solution.
If Congress is so adamant that U.S. forces should be fighting in the Syrian civil war, then Congress should vote to declare war.
As it stands today, U.S. forces are deployed in Syria on legally and constitutionally shaky grounds. In the days after the 9/11 terrorists attacks, Congress approved an Authorization of Use of Military force, which allowed the president to deploy troops against those responsible for 9/11, as well as any “associated forces.”
In the two decades since, presidents have used this authorization as a shortcut to avoid going through Congress to get approval for military action abroad. As a result, the United States today is engaged in 80 countries across six continents fighting terrorism. And, as evidenced by Mr. Trump’s campaign and 2016 victory, voters are tired of it.
Oddly, members of Congress such as Ms. Cheney who are urging President Trump to remain in Syria are essentially committing constitutional suicide by working to eliminate their own authority in the process of sending troops into battle overseas. That is a self-defeating motive that even the Founders could not imagine.
And who knows? Having the debate on the floor of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate just might persuade American voters to turn in favor of such foreign military adventurism. Regardless, such a declaration of war would surely give President Trump all the cover he needs to keep the United States entangled in Syria’s civil war and fighting alongside the Kurds.
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