Our founders wisely intended to check the President’s power to unilaterally engage in armed hostilities with foreign nations.

They understood that no one — not even the President of the United States — should be empowered to force our nation to war without the presentation of evidence, debate, and deliberation that our system of advise and consent requires. That is why Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the United States Constitution makes it clear: The Congress shall have Power… to declare War.”  

Trump’s Syria attacks underline why Congress must reassert control of its constitutional War Powers.

Nerve gas is horrible. The use of such weapons is repugnant. Anyone with even an iota of humanity is against it. The problem is that the United States lacks credibility when voicing a moral outrage that is coupled with weapons deliveries, troops on the ground, and waffle words on regime change. Trump’s decision to bombard Syrian targets was not based on evidence presented or congressional approval, much less honest public debate.

Let’s step back for a moment:

Our Middle East credibility problem started well before Trump and even before Bush II destroyed Iraq based on a lie.  Support for aggressions and bad actors based on political expediency has defined our presence in the region since WW II.  Our government’s bellicose actions in recent decades have been neither moral nor strategic. They have eroded the foundations of the post war international institutions designed to bring broad and legitimate pressure to bear on human rights violators like Assad and his abettors.

And we are doing little to restore our standing. The US has not investigated our own war crimes since Sept 11, 2001. High profile violations of international humanitarian law continue in the form of illegal drone attacks that kill large numbers of civilians, indefinite detention of detainees, and the outsourcing of intelligence gathering and even murder to unaccountable corporate contractors. In a region with long memory, our hypocrisy — in word and deed – has alienated many potential friends and drastically limits US strategic options even as it paves the road for domination by our traditional geo-political adversaries, like Russia.

But with Trump (and his new neo-con advisor John Bolton) a whole new level of stupid and dangerous is at the table.  That is why restoring constitutional war powers has become an urgent national priority.

Trump, as we know, is a dangerous conman. Two weeks ago he spoke in favor of a total US withdrawal from Syria. Then just days later he hired John Bolton. Then came the FBI raid the office of his personal lawyer. He tried to change the subject to the alleged gas attack in Syria, and then launched strikes in Syria with Great Britain and France — the last two countries from the once vast “Western Alliance” still willing to jump when an American president calls for airstrikes.

At home Trump is in the middle of what has clearly morphed into a constitutional crisis of epic proportion that is already testing the legal, moral, and political fabric of our nation. As we work to restore the rule of law, re-establish respect for evidence based decision-making, and mobilize our communities for the civic battle of our lives, we have to make sure that Trump cannot manipulate and endanger us with military adventurism and/or threats of nuclear fist strike.

Congressman Ted Lieu  the southern California Congressman agrees. He decries, “the lack of any coherent strategy in Syria.” He points out that a few days ago “the Trump Administration signaled that it was okay with allowing Assad to stay in power, even though Assad had already killed hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and previously used chemical weapons.”   He notes that a just few days later, “the Trump Administration attacked the Assad regime.”  Lieu, himself a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, has denounced Trump’s unauthorized use of military force. Lieu knows something about law and the armed forces having served in the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps from 1995 to 1999.

Together with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, Lieu introduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017, and eminently sane piece of legislation he explains here.

Forty-five years ago, after the public had turned massively against the Vietnam War, Congress moved to restore its constitutional mandate by passing The War Powers Resolution of 1973  — to check the president’s ability to commit the United States to armed conflict without the express consent of the U.S. Congress. Since that time war powers have nevertheless been abused presidents both Republican and Democratic. A notoriously egregious example was President Bill Clinton’s attack on Al Queda camps in1998, timed to delay proceedings on his own impeachment. Wouldn’t it have been better if we debated that attack back when most Americans had still never heard of Al Queda?  

The wisdom of the framers in checking the unilateral war making power of the President is evident under any circumstance. Those representatives closest to the people who suffer the pain and desolation of war should be empowered to decide when the use of force is justified. But under our current circumstances—with a manifestly ignorant, self centered, and reckless president making spur of the moment decision based on gut feelings rather than evidence or logic it becomes critical that we cut him off.

Please tell your member of Congress to be on the right side of history.  When irate Americans passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973, Richard Nixon vetoed it – but was then overridden by Congress. 

And just this week Senators Bob Corker and Tim Kaine’s proposed new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, which will further enable the president’s war-making ability. Wherever he wants. On whomever he wants.

Take action and alert our senators immediately that we are opposed to this bill!

To stop Trump from using war as a tool of public manipulation, we must again band together to restore Congressional authority.  It will take millions of us to check this out-of-control administration.  Let Congress know we want restraints on Trump and future administrations.  War is too serious to be in the hands of a single person, especially an ignorant and malevolent man like Trump.

See below for an update to this post added on 10/24/11:

This morning when, Wanda, long time Global Exchange board member, called after President Obama announced a date for the return of all US troops from Iraq my reaction was the same as almost everyone else in our office. “Is this for real? What is he not telling us?” But you can listen to it over and over again:

“After nearly nine years, the long war in Iraq will come to an end……and all the troops will home for the holidays this year.”

Why aren’t we aren’t dancing in the streets the same way we did when he was elected with the promise to end the war in his first term?

Obama announced that he and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed that the troop withdrawal marks a beginning for a “new and enduring partnership”  based on a “normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”  He said that “We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. “

In fact, the two of them have been meeting to hash out the Strategic Framework for the Status of Forces since 2008 and are actually complying with a treaty that Maliki and Presisdent Bush made three years ago, which the Prime Minister is refusing to modify in order to accommodate the US’s desire to maintain a military presence beyond this year. The Status of Forces agreement eliminates immunity for military actions, making it impossible to keep US forces there since they would actually be held accountable in Iraqi courts for civilian deaths and destruction.

So yes, this Friday’s announcement is good news, and somewhere enduring peace activists should be dancing in the streets. In Iraq, I’m sure people are feeling proud of the fact that they have stood up to the most powerful nation in the world and insisted on their own sovereignty and their right to an equal partnership. Obama would not have been forced to make this announcement today, which will definitely mean less death and destruction, had it not been for the strength of the peace movement at the end of the Bush era and without the steadfast Iraqi resistance to US occupation.

The price has been high  — over 4400 US deaths, and an untold number of Iraqi deaths (over 112 000, according to Iraq Body Count), destruction of infrastructure for water, health and electricity and irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures. There are millions of refugees who have fled to all parts of the world who now have to contemplate uprooting their lives again and joining the massive rebuild effort, or remain exiles.

Questions still remain because of the murky status of “contractors” paid for by US tax payers. Thousand of these contractors will remain in Iraq to train Iraqi police. The US will continue to operate the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad. It’s not clear if these 4000-5000 trainers will have immunity from the Status Agreement.

And now 40,000 US soldiers are coming home to a country where no jobs await them. Global Exchange’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who has traveled to Iraq 5 times since 2003, has organized with a campaign with CodePink to “Bring the War Dollars Home” in order to draw attention to how the economic crisis in the US is inextricably tied to excessive military spending. She says,

“January 1st will be a historic moment to disentangle us from the quagmire in Iraq, but we are still left with the one in Afghanistan that is now scheduled to drag on for years to come in a statement regarding the troop withdrawal, “We call on President Obama to recognize how the unwinnable Afghan war is contributing to the economic crisis and to put a quick end the US involvement in that tragedy as well.”

I wish our response to the announcement were more unqualified – that instead of questioning the meaning of “bringing the troops home”, we knew it would happen and that we would begin the process of making it right.  Iraqis deserve reparations — we should support the Iraqi economy from afar, bring our troops home from every other foreign nation as well, and use the “savings” ($3 billion a week) to begin converting our own economy to nonviolent, clean industries which create jobs for our people and stability for the region.

UPDATE ADDED 10/24/2011:

To read more on the topic, check out this article co-written by Global Exchange Co-founder Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis: “Only ‘Success’ in Iraq Is That US Troops are Leaving.”