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Syria Strike

Monday, 10 April 2017

by Staff, Spaulding Law

At 3:45 a.m. on Friday morning, the U.S. launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base in Syria. This strike was ordered in response to a chemical attack that took place on Tuesday and may have killed as many as 100 people, many of them children. It is believed that the airplane that disbursed the chemicals took off from this air base. The U.S. strike was ordered by President Trump without formal congressional approval. The question is, does he need formal congressional approval?

I, like many others, learned in high school civics classes that only Congress has the power to declare war. How then can a President order a missile strike of this magnitude without Congressional approval? The answer is in the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (sometimes referred to as the War Powers Act). This resolution is a federal law that is intended to check the President’s power to commit to armed conflict, but it also gives the President of the United States the flexibility to respond to attacks or other emergencies. However, this is not a blank check to declare war, the President must notify Congress before committing armed forces to military action and may only send armed forces into combat for up to 90 days without congressional authorization for use of military force. The Washington AP noted that while Trump didn’t get formal congressional approval, he did brief more than two dozen members of Congress (from both parties) before the strike.

Though many have agreed, to differing extents, that the strike was the right thing to do, members of Congress are requesting more details on the President’s plan moving forward. There seems to be recognition that an act like this will likely not be a one-time thing and Congress wants its opportunity to debate what the actions of the U.S. should be in the future. Representative Justin Amash, R-Michigan, shared his thoughts via Twitter saying, “Framers of Constitution divided war powers to prevent abuse. Congress to declare war; president to conduct war and repel sudden attacks.”

It’s not clear what the result of the air strike will be. Countries such as Great Britain, France, Italy, and Israel supported the strike as “an appropriate response”. While supporters of Assad such as Iran and Russia condemned the strike claiming it was aggressive and launched under a “far-fetched pretext”. The conflict in Syria has existed for 6 years and is likely not close to being resolved. A military strike like the one launched on Friday suggests more involvement from the U.S. in the future. It’s unclear what involvement other countries may have, and it will be interesting to see what action Congress is willing to approve.

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