Harold Pease, Ph. D
Even though President Donald Trump believes it proper to bomb Syria, a country that has done us no harm, he has no constitutional authority to do so. Because weak Congress’s have not punished previous presidents, both Democrat and Republican, when they did the same, it does not make it constitutional. Despite compelling humanitarian reasons justifying the action, the gassing of children with sarin gas, presumed by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, we lack the treasure and ability to be the policeman of the world. Where would it end? Most of the world has dictators and tyrants as leaders. We would never be able to stop bombing someone.
The making and funding of war were clearly denied the president in the U.S. Constitution because he, as Founder James Madison argued, “had the most propensity for war.” The Constitution reads: only Congress has the right “to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.” War requires the blood of our young warriors, and this requires the permission of the people who are required to be the fodder for such. Only the people’s representatives can “provide and maintain a navy or make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces” and for “calling forth the militia…to repel invasions.” Only the people’s representatives can “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States….” Congress is directly responsible for any acquisition of property for military use. All of this is in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution and belongs to the legislative branch alone.
The Constitution does not use the words “national security” but “common defense,” defined by eight parameters, clauses 10-17, just noted, with the word defense primary. Not a single Founder would have approved of our turning “common defense” into “common offense.”
Funding for war is yet another constitutional check and is entirely left with the House of Representatives. The Constitution says: “no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.” Two years is the designated time that a member of the House is elected and authorized to represent his people. So, neither Presidents Barack Obama nor Trump can expend monies for military activity without congressional approval. Article I, Section 7 requires that “all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives….” This clause is how the people, through their elected representatives, control a war happy president.
The only war power a president is allowed to have in the Constitution is as “Commander in Chief of the army and navy of the United States, … when called into the actual service of the United States,” which is done only by Congress, not by himself. No president has constitutional authority to engage in war without a declaration of war—even if done by other presidents before him. To commit our young to potential death unilaterally is not a presidential power, and doing so should be an impeachable offense. If the Executive Branch can effectively remove this power from Congress, giving it to itself, we are close to losing the rest of the Constitution as well.
In the Obama Administration, Congress was not consulted when American planes bombed Libya (2011, 2015), or his authorizing drone strikes in several middle-eastern countries (2013-2016) killing designated individuals—all such have traditionally been considered acts of war. Certainly these would be treated as such were they perpetrated on U.S. soil by another country. The Syrian chemical use in their civil war had already occurred, so the Trump bombing strike was to punish the perpetrator, clearly not self-defense.
The last four presidents, two of each major political party, have bombed the following 10 sovereign nations (some multiple years): Somalia 1993, 2007-2008 & 2011, Bosnia 1994-1995, Sudan 1998, Afghanistan 1998 & 2001-2015, Yugoslavia 1999, Yemen 2002 & 2009-2011, Iraq 1991-2015, Pakistan 2007-2015, Libya 2011 & 2015, and Syria 2014-2016 & 2017. None of these were preceded by a declaration of war. Most of these American attacks had no specific congressional authorization. They were all justified under national security. Probably only Afghanistan can be viewed as self-defense. Where do we get authority to bomb other countries at executive will, certainly not from the Constitution?
To protect the Constitution, the House of Representatives in March of 2012, attempted to place President Obama on short notice that the next disregard of their power would be grounds for impeachment. We might wish to give Trump the same warning. Concurrent resolution H. Con. Res. 107 read, “Whereas the cornerstone of the Republic is honoring Congress’s exclusive power to declare war under article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that, except in response to an actual or imminent attack against the territory of the United States, the use of offensive military force by a President without prior and clear authorization of an Act of Congress violates Congress’s exclusive power to declare war under article 1, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution and therefore constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under article II, section 4 of the Constitution.”
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.