Lawmakers slammed President Donald Trump for not seeking congressional approval before his strike on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military infrastructure on Thursday night, and while he could use their support — he didn’t need it.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called the move an “ill-thought out military action” that “exposes the immoral hypocrisy of this administration’s policy in the Middle East,” in a statement.
In 2011 former President Barack Obama did not seek Congress’ approval to carry out a strike on Libya’s Mummar Qaddafi.
Later, in 2016, Obama did not seek Congress’ approval to strike Houthi-controlled radar sites in Yemen after the Houthis had targeted US Navy ships with anti-ship guided missiles.
“The law as to declaration of war is very clear in the constitution,” Lawrence Brennan, a former US Navy captain and expert on maritime law, told Business Insider. “Having said that,” he added, the constitutional law on declaring war “has not been followed since World War II.”
The War Powers Resolution, passed in 1973 over then-President Richard Nixon’s veto, enshrined Congress’ right to approve or reject military action that lasts longer than 60 days. For now, the Trump administration has given every indication that the strike was limited, and a one-off.
Speaking about the cruise missile strike at a briefing late on Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that [the strike] to a change in our policy or posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”
However, “at the end of the game, Congress controls the budget. They can do what Congress did with Ford at the end of the Vietnam war — cut off the funding,” said Brennan.
So while Trump acted within the legal and practical norms of the presidency with his unilateral strike on Syria, congressional authorization for limited strikes is “lawfully not required, but practically, often a good thing,” according to Brennan.