On Friday April 13, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom launched airstrikes against a number of targets across Syria after the strikes were ordered by US President Donald Trump in response to the Syrian Regime’s use of chemical weapons to kill civilians. The strikes show just how much power the office of the President now hoards over military decisions. The ability of the President to launch military strikes at any time and in any country without any oversight or accountability is dangerous for the world and for American citizens.
Although this military response may seem appropriate given the nature of the atrocities committed by the Syrian government over the past few years, the strike was ordered without even attaining the approval of Congress, revealing the excessive and increasingly exclusive war-making power wielded by the President. It was also meaningless in the greater scheme of the Syrian Civil War, and served only as a symbolic show of force by Trump.
Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution states that “The Congress shall have Power…To declare War” and this declaration has always been interpreted as a check on the power of the Executive Branch and the US President, who acts as the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, to engage in warfare without accountability to the citizens of the United States.
James Madison, the Constitution’s main architect, stated in 1793 that the power to declare war was fully and exclusively vested in the legislature. (i.e. Congress) He explained that the executive branch has a vested interest in engaging in war because it brings various benefits to the President, and therefore the power to engage in war needs to rest with Congress, who are more connected with the citizens.
“Hence it has grown into an axiom that the executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war,” Madison concludes. “Hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence.”
Although it is clear that the Constitution seeks to limit the power of the President to unilaterally engage in warfare, US presidents have, since World War II, succeeded in pushing through military engagements without Congressional approval. They have done so without much pushback from the legislative and judicial branches of government, who should be checking the power of the executive. One particularly egregious example occurred during the Vietnam War, when President Nixon began a secret bombing campaign against Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia, because he believed that North Vietnamese troops were hiding in Cambodia. During the undisclosed assault, the US dropped 2.7 million tons of explosives on Cambodia — more than the Allies dropped during the entirety of World War II.
A report on the effects of the bombing of Cambodia by Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan concluded that the US’s bombing campaign led to widespread anger and radicalization of Cambodian citizens, driving them to join and support a small insurgent group called the Khmer Rouge. After the American bombings, the formerly small and scattered group of Maoist revolutionaries grew exponentially and quickly took over. Once in power, they began carrying out the Cambodian Genocide, during which between 1.5 and 3 million people deemed enemies of the new regime were killed.
Reports on the consequences of modern military/drone strikes from the presidency of George W. Bush up to the present indicate that the same types of blowback and anger are occuring today. The actions of former President Barack Obama to ramp up the number of drone strikes across the world, in countries where the US was not officially engaged in war, increased levels of resentment toward the United States in places where the falsely justified invasion of Iraq had already made people highly suspicious of US intentions. Writers for the New York Times have stated that in Yemen and Pakistan, drone bombings have become the recruiting tool of choice for militants.
These classified military strikes have vast unforeseen consequences, yet the office of the President seems unconcerned with the prospect of greater chaos around the world.
Trump’s most recent military strikes, and his continuation of drone bombing campaigns around the globe, simply show the ridiculous nature of a US President’s ability to order wide scale destruction around the world without accountability to anyone. Trump’s administration has reportedly loosened the rules of engagement and decreased the already dismal levels of transparency concerning the government’s military strikes, according to The Guardian. Strikes under this administration are being ordered more broadly and with even less regard for innocent casualties compared with recent former administrations. While watching a previously recorded airstrike where the CIA had held off on firing at their target until he left the home where his family was with him, Trump reportedly asked, “Why did you wait?”
No individual should have the ability to unilaterally order bomb strikes capable of destroying city blocks and entire buildings at will. These strikes dramatically shape the perception of the United States and its citizens around the world, yet the American public is largely unaware of what is being done in its name. Military strikes that kill innocent civilians across the Muslim world are used by terrorist organizations to recruit people to kill citizens in the West. The violence engaged in by US Presidents fuels this horrendous cycle of violence around the world and must be stopped.
Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year in the US on war and the military while schools here are crumbling and children are starving. Trump’s most recent military strike on Syria, meanwhile, is clearly not going to change much in the grand scheme of the Syrian Civil War. According to the Guardian, the strikes did not fully destroy the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons program, and many in the country suspect that the Syrian government moved most of their chemical stocks to secret locations in anticipation of the strike.
It appears that this most recent strike was simply a show of force by President Trump; one meant to show that he doesn’t back down on ‘red lines,’ as opposed to what happened when President Obama chose not to strike Syria following the use of chemical weapons by the government of Assad during his tenure. But what is implied with these strikes, and with Trump’s anti-Syrian refugee rhetoric and policies, is that it is okay for Assad to bomb innocent people in Syria to his heart’s desire as long as he sticks with barrel bombs and missile strikes. Even in the run-up to this last strike, the US government did nothing to try to secure a deal that would protect the Syrians targeted by Assad’s regime. The US will only step in to make a stand in response to the arbitrary symbol of chemical weapons use rather than explosive munitions used to murder civilians.
The fact that the US President can single-handedly order a military strike on a whim, like a military dictator, in order to prove a point is a reflection of the sad state of American politics and the vast, out-of-control powers that have been afforded to the US President. It is time for US citizens to reign in the powers of the executive branch and end unjustified military interventions with horrific consequences around the world.