The images on television of children in Syria suffering and dying from exposure to banned chemical weapons were sad, unacceptable and moving, so much so that President Trump, having watched the televised coverage of the chemical weapon carnage in Syria, authorized a targeted missile attack against a Syrian air base in response. The reaction to Trump's military decision was mixed. While most agree doing nothing was unacceptable, serious questions followed the attack absent congressional approval and a coherent U.S. foreign policy strategy for war-torn Syria.
So why the concern? Because America's top diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, most recently proclaimed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's future as his country's leader would be "decided by the Syrian people." That statement, cryptic and dumb-founding as it was, reversed the U.S. policy under President Obama without any further explanation. Even worse, it indicated U.S. approval for Assad remaining in power until the people of Syria came up with a collective process to replace him. Exactly how that would occur was never explained by the Trump administration and to Assad, it most certainly appeared to be a green light to maintain status quo in Syria. On top of Tillerson's statement was the Trump administration's routine courting of better relations with Putin and Russia, Assad's ally in Syria.
Perhaps this history explains why Trump did not approach Congress in advance of his decision to attack Syria, for Congress most certainly would have asked:
- What is America's short-term and long-term foreign policy strategy for Syria and the region?
- How will attacking an air base in Syria affect our relationship with Russia?
- How does the situation in 2017 differ from the situation in 2013 when you repeatedly urged the Obama administration to "stay out" of Syria and not bomb Syria?
- What about Syrian refugees who, under your two Executive Orders, are not allowed entry into the United States? Is that fair and reasoned?
- Do you believe Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the U.S. Constitution requires the President obtain congressional approval before waging war against a sovereign nation that has not attacked or threatened to attack the U.S. or its allies?
These are all good questions to which the Trump administration has no answers. The use of chemical weapons, especially upon innocent children, will always be barbaric and contrary to the rule of international law. That alone, however, does not excuse the Trump administration from serious work on a coherent foreign policy that explains our country's position to Congress and the American people. We deserve to know that our President's military actions against a sovereign nation are constitutionally authorized, well-reasoned and coherent versus a reaction to something the President saw on television. The latter, quite frankly, is terrifying.