The White House has declined to comment on why they think they have the legal authority to strike Syria without congressional approval. This comes as the Trump administration puts “all options on the table” and tries to decide how much damage to inflict on the war-torn nation.
The president has the authority to deploy military force in the interest of self-defense, but outside that rationale, the president’s legal authority becomes murkier. And striking Syria is not in the interest of self-defense, but a provocative escalation of war. Critics simply want president Donald Trump to declare why he thinks it’s necessary to inflame an issue over what’s amounting to a false flag chemical attack.
But what the White House does have, is a seven-page memo that they say “makes the case” for a strike.
After the United States’ missile strikes against Syria last year (of which the government has admitted that they has no evidence it was Bashar al-Assad who had used the chemical weapons), a group made up primarily of former Obama administration lawyers called “Protect Democracy,” filed a Freedom of Information Act request to demand the legal justification for the strikes. They were told of a seven-page memo that the White House will likely use this time around to make the case for an attack.
Although the first page containing the background information is classified, the other six pages are not. Protect Democracy filed an update with the court asking for a speedy resolution of its lawsuit on the heels of Trump’s Monday tweet stating that “smart missiles” incoming to Syria were imminent. Now the White House is saying they can’t share the six pages of information that allegedly gives the Trump administration the legal authority to start a war.
The Trump administration argues that the memo was prepared for the purpose of giving advice to the president and says in a court filing that disclosure could “chill the open and frank expression of ideas.” Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va. (Hillary Clinton’s running mate), who has become a leading voice advocating for Congress’ responsibility to approve military action, said the president should release the memo before any strikes, but that he would approve of attacking Syria.
“Without congressional authorization, any military action President Trump takes in Syria that isn’t in self-defense is illegal,” Kaine said in a statement on Wednesday. “And while he’s at it, he should also release the secret legal memo that reportedly justifies the airstrikes on Syria last year — which clearly haven’t deterred Syrian leader Bashar Assad — and that the president is apparently now using as precedent for unilateral military action.”
It looks like Kaine got the memo telling him that even though there’s no evidence in either chemical attack that Assad was responsible, Assad is somehow still responsible. Kaine told NPR this week that while in general, he would support airstrikes against Assad, he does not believe that the president can unilaterally bomb a sovereign country like Syria without congressional authorization.
It doesn’t seem like Trump will have any trouble getting Congress to agree to start another war, however. It just may take him longer to start it if he asks their permission. The one thing the left and right statists can agree on: war.