This editorial was first published in The (Norwich, Connecticut) Bulletin, a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has sounded a “red alert” on recent activities of the Trump administration in Syria, saying the president lacks the legal authority to make war in that country. He’s right, as he was when he made similar criticisms of President Obama’s extralegal war activities.
“Four direct engagements with Syria/Iran/Russia in 45 days. Trump is quietly starting a new war that Congress has not declared. Red alert,” Murphy tweeted on Monday, reacting to news of Russian aggression following the U.S. Air Force shooting down a Syrian fighter jet.
Murphy is hardly alone in criticizing Trump or his predecessors for expending American blood and treasure in overseas pursuits that Congress has not authorized. President George W. Bush was the last president to receive such authorization to fight al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, and congressmen and senators from both sides of the aisle have sought to create congressional authorization for new engagements and restore some of the balance between the branches of government that has slipped away since 9/11.
At a hearing of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee this week, its chairman, Tennessee Republican Bob Corker said: “We are approaching the day when an American soldier will deploy to combat under legal authority that was passed before they were born.”
The committee is considering legislation that would cover military operations in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Yemen taken against radical Islamist groups such as Islamic State. Direct congressional approval for this activity is badly overdue, and Congress should act swiftly to determine whether it sees fit to green-light Trump’s use of force overseas.
That question becomes more pressing amid mounting indications that Trump lacks a clear strategy for defeating terrorism in the Middle East, a task that has perplexed both his predecessors and many brilliant military minds. Some say it will never be truly defeated, and that like a mythic monster two heads grow back where one is lopped off.
We don’t believe Trump possesses the ability to learn the lessons of the last 20 years and incorporate them into his Mideast policy. So Congress should do it for him and, as the one entity with the power to do so, apply appropriate constraints.