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Published: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

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Senators Respond to Trump's Unauthorized Military Strike on Syria by Trying to Give Him Even More War Powers

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 12:40:00 -0400

No, President Donald Trump didn't have authorization to order a military strike on Syria. No, Congress will not hold him accountable for bombing Syria anyway. Not only has Congress largely abandoned its duty to grant or deny the president permission to wage war, but a bipartisan bill was introduced this week that would pretty much let him engage in war as he pleases. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-Va.) teamed up to introduce a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Both Trump and former President Barack Obama have been criticized for using the AUMF signed after 9/11, which was theoretically supposed to authorize the fight with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, to justify all sorts of military interventions in the Middle East. The Obama and the Trump administrations have argued that the 2001 AUMF covers everything from military actions in Libya and Syria to drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia. Corker and Kaine's AUMF is supposed to address this imbalance between what the 2001 bill actually authorized and how it has been used. Unfortunately, their "authorization" is virtually a blank check. It gives the president permission to keep on doing what he's doing, it expands the number of terrorist groups the White House may use the military against, and it allows the president to add both new "associated" terrorist groups to the AUMF and even entire new countries where anti-terror operations will happen, beyond Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen. In other words, it resolves the problem of unauthorized military actions by retroactively authorizing them and future strikes as well. It does not have any sunset clause, instead requiring the president to submit a report every four years with a proposal to repeal, modify, or leave the AUMF in place. There will be congressional review for the addition of new countries, and lawmakers can remove authorization to strike in new countries should they choose to do so. But otherwise this is, in practical terms, permission to send the military wherever the president pleases. (Among this new AUMF's co-sponsors, by the way, is outgoing Arizona GOP senator and Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake.) Gene Healy and John Glaser of the Cato Institute are not happy with this bill. They wrote a commentary for The New York Times arguing that the AUMF should instead be repealed and not replaced at all: As we have painfully learned, war often spawns new threats. The Islamic State had its origins in the Sunni insurgency that rose to fight American forces in Iraq. As early as 2006, the National Intelligence Estimate on Trends in Global Terrorism found that the Iraq war had "become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." In the seven countries that the United States either invaded or bombed since Sept. 11, the number of individual terrorist attacks rose by an astonishing 1,900 percent from 2001 to 2015. If anything, open-ended war in the Middle East has made us less safe, not more. Presidential war undermines fundamental values of our representative democracy. "In no part of the constitution," James Madison wrote in 1793, "is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department"—were it otherwise, "the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) warned on Fox News that this new AUMF will expand the president's power. This morning Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) tweeted that he doesn't support the new plan either: Having reviewed the proposed bill text from my colleagues, I am not supportive of this attempt at writing a new AUMF. I look forward to seeing how the markup goes and hope for an opportunity to debate and amend something on the Senate floor. — Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) April 19, 2018 The White House, meanwhile, thinks it already has all the authority it needs to wage war how it choose[...]

Forget Robert Mueller. Trump’s Attacks On Syria Are a Reminder We’re Already in a Constitutional Crisis

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 12:45:00 -0400

As Donald Trump stumbles through his second year as president, it has become increasingly common to hear warnings about a looming constitutional crisis. Following last week's raid on the office of Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, which included the seizure of communications with the president, the commander in chief is more agitated than ever, according to various insider reports. As Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into links between the president's campaign and Russian influence appears to be reaching its peak, Trump has explicitly acknowledged the possibility that he might fire Mueller. Rumors abound that he is about to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller's investigation. If Trump were to terminate the jobs of either man, the thinking goes, he would be effectively declaring himself above the law, a man unbound and uninhibited by the most sacred rules of the country he is sworn to govern; a constitutional crisis would ensue. These warnings are worth taking into account. There are legitimate reasons to worry about Trump's state of mind, his governing abilities, and the political bedlam that might erupt if he did take action to block the Mueller investigation. But so far these warnings are just warnings, with the potential to spark constitutional breakdowns that, at least for now, remain little more than imagined scenarios, however plausible they may be. Meanwhile, a real constitutional crisis has been playing out in slow motion, right in front of our eyes, with far less consternation than has been reserved for Trump's still-hypothetical intervention against Mueller. That crisis comes in the form of Congress' ongoing abdication of its authority to declare war, and to act as a democratic check on the president's ability to use American military might to strike abroad. Last week, after several days of teasing, Trump announced that American forces had struck multiple targets in Syria. The attacks came in response to reports that the country's president, had slaughtered his own people in a chemical weapons attack. This was the second such attack of Trump's presidency, and the president and White House officials contradicted each other about whether there might be more. It seems safe to say, however, that the possibility of further strikes remains, even if Trump himself is wary of military intervention; the president's team is more hawkish than ever, and by striking last week after pushing for—and at one point even announcing—a military exit from the region, Trump demonstrated that he can be swayed. The fighting may persist more in punitive bursts than in sustained conflict, but each attack is an act of war. It is an open-ended military conflict, with all that it entails. Which means that America is, in a very real sense, engaged in a drawn-out, low-level war in Syria. It is a war that Congress has never authorized, which means that it is a plainly unconstitutional exercise of executive power. Although the president is the commander in chief of the military, the Constitution reserves the power to declare war solely for Congress. The only exception is in the case of an imminent threat against Americans—essentially, self defense. There is no plausible way to claim that Trump's attack on Syria was an act of self defense; even the most creative acts of constitutional interpretation will not support it. Indeed, Trump himself has declined to make a self-defense argument. Following the strike, the president released a statement insisting that the attack was constitutional as a way to promote U.S. interests in the region while averting "humanitarian catastrophe." This was all but an open admission that the attack did not pass constitutional muster; Trump was citing a justification that the Constitution does not provide. Trump's Republican defenders in Congress have provided other cover stories for the strike. Prior to the launch, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan cited the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) passed shortly after 9/11. Tha[...]

Trump Should Bring Syrians to America, Not Dispatch American Missiles to Syria

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 09:02:00 -0400

President Donald Trump cares so deeply about the suffering of the Syrian people that he didn't even feel the need to obtain congressional authorization before launching air strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime. But if Trump really wanted to help Syrians escape Assad's chemical butchery, he wouldn't be dispatching Tomahawk missiles to Syria—he would be sending American ships to bring Syrians here. Instead, Trump has systematically gutted America's refugee program. In particular, he has spurned the very Syrians he is now trying to save from a man he has called a "monster" and an "animal." When Trump assumed office, the Syrian conflict had displaced about 12 million people, producing the worst refugee crisis that Europe had experienced since World War II. Yet America had taken in fewer desperate Syrians than the Middle East, Turkey, Europe, or Canada. Indeed, Canada, a country that has less than a tenth of America's population, has admitted more than twice as many Syrian refugees. As if that was not bad enough, one of Trump's first acts as president was to suspend America's refugee program for six months to ensure that no terrorist could sneak in through it. When he reinstated it, he slashed America's total refugee quota from 110,000 to 45,000—the lowest in the program's history—and made an already onerous screening process practically unusable. Even before Trump's extreme vetting, refugees had to endure a two-year-long, multi-agency process that automatically disqualified anyone who had so much as served a sandwich to a jihadi. (That counted as "material support" for terrorism!) It took non-Syrian refugees about two years from the time they approached a U.S. embassy abroad or an intermediary such as the United Nations to get a referral to the relevant American authorities. After that, the refugee still would have a dozen or so other hurdles to cross in the U.S., including medical screening, several in-person interviews, and background checks by various federal agencies, among other things. If the refugees were from Syria—ISISland—they faced an additional "Enhanced Syrian Review" to rule out fraud, adding several more years to their processing time. Even under the regular visa vetting process, according to a study released by the Cato Institute's David Bier yesterday, America experienced a dramatic drop in its already low vetting failure rate after 9/11. Indeed, from 2002 to 2016, it experienced one vetting failure for every 29 million visa or status approvals, for a grand total of 13 failures. And that's using a ridiculously broad definition of failure in which Bier counted even private thoughts that later became public. He also included anyone who committed an offense within a decade of entry even without evidence that they radicalized before entry. After 9/11, he found, vetting failures accounted for just 9 percent of terrorism deaths, while U.S.-born offenders killed 82 percent of the country's terrorism victims. Only God could make the vetting process more foolproof, which doesn't mean Trump would leave it to Him. Indeed, the administration has added more hurdles to the refugee screening process overall and for Syrians in particular (and is working on making the regular process equally insane). Bob Carey, a former director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, observes that the refugee program isn't just being managed, "its being managed to fail." The recent admission numbers testify to that. The Niskanen Institute's Matthew La Corte has documented that from last October to March this year, the administration has settled only 10,548 refugees—about a quarter allowed under its own truncated quota. How many Syrians are among them? A grand total of 44! "The overall monthly refugee admissions...are the lowest they have been since 2012 and it's not close," La Corte notes. Nor is the administration likely to make up the deficit in the remainder of this fiscal year, given that it has conducted less than a third as many "circuit rides" as in previous years[...]

Trump Wages War Wherever and Whenever He Wants

Wed, 18 Apr 2018 00:01:00 -0400

The day before Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on three sites tied to chemical weapons production in Syria, House Speaker Paul Ryan made it clear that the president needn't worry about getting permission from Congress. "He has the authority under the existing AUMF," Ryan said, referring to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001." That eyebrow-raising assertion—which seemed to suggest that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had helped Al Qaeda, his archenemy, crash jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—was striking evidence of Ryan's cognitive dissonance. He and most of his colleagues are happy to let the president do whatever he wants with the country's armed forces, as long as they can pretend that Congress is still ultimately in charge. As much as Ryan might like us to believe otherwise, last week's attack on Syria, which was a response to the Assad regime's use of chlorine (and possibly sarin) against rebels in Douma on April 7, had nothing to do with 9/11. By Trump's account, the 105 missiles fired from American, British, and French aircraft and ships were aimed at creating "a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons," which he declared "a vital national security interest of the United States." Members of Congress may or may not agree with that assessment. But under the Constitution, which gives Congress the power "to declare war," it was their call to make. That, at least, was the position taken by Donald Trump in 2013, when Barack Obama was weighing a missile attack on Syria in very similar circumstances. "Obama needs Congressional approval," Trump tweeted back then. It turns out Trump meant Obama specifically, not the president in general, certainly not when the president happens to be Trump. But that double standard seems only fair, since Obama played a similar trick. As a presidential candidate in 2007, Obama declared that "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." As president, Obama did that very thing, repeatedly. Mike Pompeo, at the time a Republican congressman from Kansas, tried to curtail Obama's unilateralism, opposing his unauthorized intervention in Libya's civil war and urging legislators to play "our constitutional role" by voting on a resolution approving the use of military force against Assad. Pompeo, currently Trump's CIA director and his choice to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, seems to take a different view of the president's military powers nowadays. "For a long time, multiple administrations have found that the president has authority to…take certain actions without first coming to Congress to seek approval," Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing last week. "I don't think that has been disputed by Republicans or Democrats." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—one of the few legislators who has consistently demanded that the president, regardless of party, respect the constitutional limits on his powers—could not let that slide. "It was disputed mostly by our Founding Fathers, who believed they gave that authority to Congress," Paul told Pompeo. "The fact that we have in the past done this doesn't make it constitutional, and I would say that I take objection to the idea that the president can go to war when he wants, where he wants." Make no mistake: That is the power Trump is asserting. "As our commander in chief," Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared the day of the missile assault, "the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests." Since the president alone defines those interests, this understanding of his authority as commander in chief effectively expurgates the War Powers Clause from the Const[...]

The Real Constitutional Crisis Is Congress' Unwillingness to Do Its Job: Podcast

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 14:30:00 -0400

Another week, another volley of American bombs on a Middle Eastern country that wasn't remotely posing a direct threat to the United States. By letter of the law, Congress is supposed to provide the necessary authorization to use force, but if any single pathology marks our crappily governed 21st century it's the legislative branch's full-scale retreat from anything that even resembles performing its basic duties. So we maintain on the latest editors' roundtable edition of the Reason Podcast, featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and me chewing on the news of the day/week. In this episode, that also includes James Comey's ABC interview on Sunday night, the latest in the Mueller investigation, President Donald Trump's caliber of insult comedy, Paul Ryan's failures, horror stories in advance of tax day, and a look at what cultural products the editors are binging on these days. Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="166" frameborder="0"> Audio production by Ian Keyser. "The First" by Scott Gratton is licensed under CC BY NC 4.0 Relevant links from the show: "Trump Attacks Syria Without Congressional Authorization (or Clearly Defined Goals)," by Eric Boehm "'Mission Accomplished'? Maybe Ask George Bush About That," by Stephanie Slade "Rand Paul Worries Mike Pompeo Will Keep America in Afghanistan Even Longer," by Eric Boehm "Rep. Justin Amash on Trump, Ryan, and the 'Stupidity' of How the Government Spends Your Money," by Nick Gillespie and Alexis Garcia "Trump, a reluctant hawk, has battled his top aides on Russia and lost," by the Washington Post "The Deep-State Liars of the #Resistance," by Matt Welch "Republicans Have Finally Been Revealed as the Party of Fiscal Ruin," by Peter Suderman "It's Good News for Libertarians When Paul Ryan Quits Congress," by Nick Gillespie "RIP Miloš Forman, a True Hollywood Anti-Authoritarian," by Matt Welch "Keynesian Economics in under 1 minute," via The Fifth Element src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason Podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.[...]

Intervention: A Success Story!

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 15:36:00 -0400

In light of President Trump's missile strike on Syria, Reason has put together a quick refresher on a few of our many questionable interventions in the Middle East.

In 1953 the CIA lead a coup against Iran's democratically-elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq. In his place America and Britain helped install a king. That regime came crashing down in 1979, and Iran has been suspicious of America ever since. The United States subsequently supported Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, providing both intelligence and arms to Saddam Hussein. Interestingly, Iraq's brutal dictator turned out to be a brutal dictator. We went to war with him during the early 90s and again in 2003. To the great surprise of the Bush administration, ousting the strongman has not transformed Iraq into a liberal democracy.

Similarly, when Nobel Peace Prize recipient Barack Obama bombed Libya to oust Muammar Gaddafi, the vacuum of power invited more strife and violence.

During the Cold War the United States provided support to a group of anti-Soviet Islamist fighters in Afghanistan called the Mujaheddin. Their ranks included Osama bin Laden and they would eventually spawn the Taliban the United States would fight in 2001.

Our attack on Syria is just the latest development in a long series of American interventions in the Middle East and it's worth considering the rubble, chaos, and ally-cum-enemies that often accompany our adventures in the region.

Written and performed by Andrew Heaton. Edited by Austin Bragg and Andrew Heaton.

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'Mission Accomplished'? Maybe Ask George Bush About That.

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 10:18:00 -0400

Last night, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. had carried out military strikes in Syria in conjunction with France and the U.K. Although he said during the briefing that he was "prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents," this morning he had a different message for America: "Mission Accomplished!"

Sound familiar?

Almost exactly 15 years ago, President George W. Bush stood on the deck of the the USS Abraham Lincoln and congratulated the sailors aboard, and the military as a whole, on a job well done in Iraq. Behind him hung a now-infamous banner. Just weeks earlier, American forces had launched a bombing campaign against the Middle Eastern country, rolled in, and deposed Saddam Hussein. It did indeed look to many bystanders like a successful endeavor.


A decade and a half (and some 4,500 fallen American soldiers) later, Bush's "mission accomplished" moment has become a symbol of that administration's foreign policy blunders and a stand-in for the lesson of how supposedly short-term military intervention can still get us mired in protracted, no-win conflicts abroad. That Trump would tweet the same words Bush himself later admitted he regrets having used—words that are already short-hand for a Republican president's irresponsible naiveté when it comes to sending U.S. troops into combat—demonstrates once again the utter lack of historical awareness the current commander in chief has brought to the task of running the free world.

When Trump Loses Alex Jones' and Gains Elizabeth Warren's Support, All Things Are Possible!

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 10:00:00 -0400

Last night President Trump launched military strikes against Syria, as punishment for the Assad regime's apparent use of chemical weapons in its ongoing civil war. The actions were supplemented by leaders of France and Britain, who said the attacks are a protest against the use of chemical weapons, not a call for regime change. Trump, who only weeks ago was calling for the pulling of all U.S. troops from the region, said that the United States will "sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents." Whatever Trump's argument for intervention, it seems to be an unconstitutional act on its face. The president has broad powers to defend the country as commander in chief but we are neither technically at war nor were we facing an imminent threat, the two conditions that would allow him to act unilaterally without prior authorization. In bombing first and asking permission later, of course, the president is merely following in the footsteps of many, if not all, of his recent predecessors. As is common in this administration, key officials are at publicly at odds with one another. Defense Secretary James Mattis has announced the missiles and bombs were a "one-time shot" while Trump avers this is part of a sustained action until the right outcome (not exactly clear what that means) is reached. Trump launched a similar campaign against Syria almost exactly a year ago. Its effects were minimal in terms of casualties and positive outcomes. Given increased tensions now between Russia and the United States over the investigation into Kremlin-led attempts to influence the 2016 election, increasingly serious charges that Trump associates and adminstration members have been playing fast and loose with all sorts of ethics problems, the raid on the offices of Trump's personal lawyer, and more, this bombing run uncomfortably calls to mind the moment when an embattled Bill Clinton deflected attention from domestic quandries by bombing foreign countries. In 1998, he chose the day that Monica Lewinsky testified before a grand jury to conduct bombing runs on terrorist sites in Afghanistan and Sudan. He bombed Iraq the day his impeachment trial started, too, delaying its opening. As a country, we don't want to even acknowledge the possibility that foreign policy can be dictated by the pettiest of domestic difficulties, but there it is. Whatever is precisely behind Trump's specific timing—the military action came shortly after the White House made a historic pledge to ending the war on pot through administrative and legislative fixes, signed a controversial pardon of Bush-era official Scooter Libby, and started tweeting about James Comey's explosive book about being fired by Trump—he continues to scramble existing categories like no other recent politicians. For instance, he pulls the ultra-hawkish and former Fox News regular John Bolton into his cabinet, hits Syria in fast fashion, and then gets lambasted on Fox News diehard fans Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Read: Carlson noted that shortly before the attack, President Donald Trump said he would like to see an end to American involvement in Syria. "How would [gassing civilians] benefit Assad?" Carlson asked, cautioning people not to rush to judgment. He proceeded to call out some of the critics, who called him "insane" and accused him of disseminating Russian propaganda. Another journalist tweeted that he should "STFU." Carlson said "shutting the F up" is what those in favor of military action want, arguing they do not seem interested in debate. Most theatrically, Trump has lost the unconditional positive regard of Alex Jones of InfoWars, who accuses the president of "crapping all over" his supporters by attacking Syria. Jones is as convincingly broken up as the "crisis actors" he insists populate most mass shooting scenes. Jeb Bush was right when he ca[...]

Trump Attacks Syria Without Congressional Authorization (or Clearly Defined Goals)

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 22:10:00 -0400

President Donald Trump ordered military strikes against Syria on Friday night (early Saturday morning in Syria), which he framed as a response to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians and rebel fighters last week. The attack commences without two fundamental elements of any hostile engagement against another nation: authorization from Congress, and a clear understanding of the mission's aims. These are not mere technicalities, regardless of how often they have been brushed aside by various chief executives in the name of expediency. Just hours ago, 87 members of Congress sent a letter to the White House demanding that Trump not take military action without congressional authorization. Trump apparently thumbed his nose at the request. Your move, Congress. Today, @RepZoeLofgren @RepBarbaraLee @RepThomasMassie and I sent a bipartisan letter to @POTUS—cosigned by 84 of our colleagues—demanding that the president not commence offensive military action against Syria without congressional approval, as the Constitution requires. — Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 14, 2018 It's quite likely that Trump will claim the attack on Syria was covered under the same Authorization for the Use of Military Force that has been used to justify almost every American intervention in the Middle East (the Iraq War was authorized separately) since it was passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks. That was more than 200 months ago, for anyone who is keeping count. Just this week, outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) downplayed the importance of forcing Trump to get congressional approval for a strike on Syria. "Well, he has the authority under the existing AUMF," Ryan said Thursday. In other words, a congressional mandate for the U.S. military to go after the 9/11 plotters is now being used to target Assad. The second important question that would have been important to ask before the missiles start flying and the bombs start exploding—as they apparently already have—is "how will we know we have achieved our goals?" On this front, too, Trump failed to make a compelling case. The closest that Trump came to defining a goal for the attack was a threat "to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents." That's better than nothing, but it's not very clear—and it's not at all clear what it would take to drive the Syrian dictator from power, nor what Iran and Russia would be willing to do to keep him there. If Trump is serious about defining victory in that way, he may have just committed the United States to a long, bloody path. This is all the more infuriating because Trump seems to understand the limits of American military power, and certainly has been better at articulating those limitations than either of his immediate predecessors. Indeed, he even acknowledged those limitations on Friday night. "We cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny," Trump said. "America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria. We look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home." If only we could look forward to the day when they would be kept at home, until such time as Congress deems appropriate to deploy them. I haven't read France's or Britain's "Constitution," but I've read ours and no where in it is Presidential authority to strike Syria. — Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) April 14, 2018 By illegally bombing Syria, President Trump has once again denied the American people any oversight or accountability in this endless war. Congress, not the president, has the power to authorize military action. — Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) April 14, 2018 The 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, which authorized military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, are outdated and must be[...]

U.S. Launches New Military Strikes Against Syria

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 21:22:00 -0400

(This post has been updated throughout.) President Donald Trump tonight announced military strikes in Syria in response to the government's alleged use of chemical weapons against Douma. The U.S. is working in coordination with France and the United Kingdom. Referencing the U.S. airstrike against Syria a year ago under a similar trigger, Trump said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, "These are not the actions of a man. These are the crimes of a monster." Trump said that the purpose of the strike was to provide a strong deterrent to try to stop future use of chemical weapons and made it clear that this could be a sustained set of strikes and military actions, not just another barrage of missiles as we saw last year. Trump also called out Russia and Iran for propping up Assad, asking "What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?" In a press briefing at 10 p.m. Defense Secretary James Mattis explained that the strike was justified as an important national interest in preventing the further use of chemical weapons. At the briefing military officials identified three targets that had been struck: A scientific research center in Damascus they believe was used to develop chemical weapons; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and another nearby storage facility and Syrian military command post. Mattis said when the targets were selected, they had "gone through great lengths to avoid civilian and foreign casualties." Mattis further said that this was a "one-time shot" against these targets and destroyed important infrastructure Syria needed for chemical weapons manufacturing that would set them back for years. He said there appeared to be no losses among U.S. troops. More coverage here. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) earlier today tweeted that 84 lawmakers sent the president a letter warning him that he couldn't engage in military strikes against Syria without congressional authorization: Today, @RepZoeLofgren @RepBarbaraLee @RepThomasMassie and I sent a bipartisan letter to @POTUS—cosigned by 84 of our colleagues—demanding that the president not commence offensive military action against Syria without congressional approval, as the Constitution requires. — Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 14, 2018 U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May put out a statement making it clear her military involvement is not about regime change, but about deterring Syria from any further chemical weapon use: This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties. And while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian Regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity. French President Emmanuel Macron also stated that the military strike were limited to stopping Syria's capacity to create and use chemical weapons.[...]

The Constitution and Trump's Next Strike Against Syria

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 16:40:00 -0400

President Donald Trump is considering launching another military strike against Syria, in realiation for the Assad regime's likely use of chemical weapons against civilians. Trump says that the strike "could be very soon, or not so soon at all." When and if it does come, however, it probably won't have congressional authorization, just like the missile strike he ordered against a Syrian air base last year, after a previous instance of of chemical weapons use by Assad. As I have emphasized in many previous writings on war powers, the Constitution does not give the president the authority to initiate a large-scale military conflict without congressional authorization. The Founders specifically designed the Constitution to prevent any one man from having the power to take the nation into war. That safeguard is especially important when the presidency is held by a dangerously ignorant demagogue like Trump. But even more conventional presidents often cannot be safely trusted with such authority. Sadly, the requirement of congressional authorization has often been ignored in recent years, including by Barack Obama when he initiated wars against Libya and ISIS. Obama later admitted that the Libya war was his "worst mistake," though he still refuses to see how the error was exacerbated by initiating the war without constitutionally required authorization. The requirement of congressional authorization for war is not just a legal technicality that only experts have reason to care about. It helps ensure that we don't initiate dubious conflicts at the behest of a single man, and that we maximize the chances of success if we do start a new war. If the president must secure congressional authorization before starting a war, he is forced to build up a broad political consensus behind his decision, which in turn increases the likelihood that we will stay the course until victory is achieved, rather than bail at the first sign of trouble, as Obama arguably did in Libya. In the absence of such broad support, it is usually better to avoid entering a conflict entirely, rather than start one that is likely to go badly. In my view, a very limited, small-scale use of force, like last year's Syria strike, might be too small to qualify as a "war," and therefore not require congressional authorization. Many other legal scholars disagree, and believe that almost any initiation of force against a foreign power requires congressional authorization. If they are right, last year's attack was unconstitutional, and the same would be true of any attack Trump chooses to launch now. But even if a small-scale strike might be legal, it is unlikely to accomplish anything useful, as the experience of the last year demonstrates. Conservative commentator (and Iraq War veteran) David French effectively summarizes the flaws of such an approach: The president was widely (and mistakenly) praised for his first unconstitutional strike against Syria, but it obviously didn't deter future chemical use nor did it slow Assad's advance against Syrian rebels. Dictators are used to taking losses. They don't care about their people, and they can replace lost equipment. Besides, Assad's true military power lies in his alliances with Russia and Iran. As French notes, Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers seem more than willing to absorb the losses likely to be inflicted by another small-scale strike similar to last year's. They probably view it as just an expected - and acceptable - cost of being in the brutal dictator business. A more serious effort to overthrow Assad or at least significantly degrade his military capabilities might have a greater effect. But any such intervention would lead to a conflict that is clearly large enough to qualify as a war, by any reasonable standard. It would therefore [...]

The Answer Trump Needs in Syria

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 08:15:00 -0400

President Trump says there will be a "big price to pay" for the horrific chemical weapons attack reported in the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta, Syria. "If it's Russia, if it's Syria, if it's Iran, if it's all of them together, we'll figure it out and we'll know the answers quite soon," he pledged Monday. "So we're looking at that very strongly and very seriously." What those answers may be—along with their second- and third-order effects—is anyone's guess. On the one hand, there is the president's well-established aversion to regime change. As a private citizen in 2013, Trump was stridently opposed to military intervention against the Bashar al-Assad regime, counseling on Twitter that there is "no upside and tremendous downside" to ousting Assad. As president-elect, Trump held that line, telling supporters his administration would "stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn't be involved with." And as recently as March 29, Trump mulled ending U.S. military action in Syria now that the Islamic State's presence and power there is decimated. "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon," he said. "Let the other people take care of it now." Trump has never been skeptical of war, but he seeks to avoid regime change projects because his nationalist agenda has no place for the cost and responsibility of foreign nation-building (and, in recent years, cycles of insurgency, military surge, and reconstruction) they inevitably incur. In Syria, this instinct points him away from a military-centric answer to Assad. But not all Trump's advisors are of the same mind, and the president's few comments about his Syria decision so far—he says the U.S. has "a lot of options militarily," per a Reuters report—suggest these more hawkish voices are winning the day. New National Security Advisor John Bolton particularly will push Trump toward large-scale military action, likely beginning with the sort of missile strike Trump ordered in April 2017 against Assad and escalating from there. Bolton's ideal is for Washington to forcibly remap the greater Mideast, and he will eagerly use Assad's evil and cruelty to push Trump toward that end. A strike on Syrian regime targets may be inevitable—the big question is what happens next. Will Trump adopt in Syria the hubris of regime change he has rightly decried in Libya and Iraq? Or will he recognize that war on Assad offers no sure route to stability, that it cannot guarantee fewer civilian casualties, that it does not secure an end to the chaos and misery Syria has so long endured? Reflecting on that 2017 attack, writer Michael Brendan Dougherty raised a point at The Week that is equally pertinent now: Great power intervention in Syria's civil war has almost certainly prolonged the conflict. "When a band of rebels who by themselves have little hope of overthrowing their government can suddenly imagine a major power like the United States intervening on their behalf, the cost of revolution is lowered," he wrote, "The same goes for dictators holding onto a decrepit regime. If Iran and Russia swoop in, the dictator can defer recognizing the reality of his broken rule, and instead of accepting exile, he fights on." And there is real risk to the great powers, too, as Trump's inclusion of Russia in his remark about forthcoming answers makes starkly clear. Russia's support for the Assad regime means a U.S. military response to Assad risks war with Russia, a nuclear power, as well as its ally, Iran. This is a dangerous game of dominoes, and one in which America has no vital interest to defend but quite a lot to lose. The most prudent path is the one already announced by the president: to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria's civil war and use the United States' unpara[...]

Trump Says 'Nice and New and "Smart!"' U.S. Missiles Headed For Syria

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 09:45:00 -0400

President Donald Trump promised a military strike against Syria this morning, and in the process explicitly threated a confrontation with Russia. "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!'" tweeted Trump this morning. The tweet references Russia's support for Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, who stands accused of using chemical weapons against the rebel-held town of Douma. Trump has been hinting at a military response to the Syrian government's alleged use of chemical weapons since Sunday, promising that he would respond "forcefully" and saying Monday morning that a "major decision" on Syria would be coming within 48 hours. The president has also been trying to work out a coordinated response to the chemical weapons attack with French president Emmanuel Macron and British prime minister Theresa May. Both Britain and France have expressed an openness to use military force. Hawks in Congress have also urged action, with Sen. Lindsay Graham saying Monday the U.S. should "destroy" the Syrian air force. On the other side of the issue, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) has protested that the president lacks the legal authority to attack Syria without congressional authorization. As the president's tweet acknowledges, any U.S. military action against the Syrian government risks escalation with Russia. According to a Reuters report this morning, Russia's ambassador to Lebanon has promised to shoot down any missiles fired by the U.S. at Syria. Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria last April, also in response to a chemical attack. His promise to strike Syria again stands in contrast to his expressed desire to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, as well as his campaign-trail pledges not to announce military action publicly. Needless to say, threatening escalation with a nuclear power via intemperate tweets is a sloppy and dangerous way of conducting foreign policy, particularly when the U.S. has so little to gain from any increased involvement in the now seven-year-old Syrian civil war. The U.S. currently has about 2,000 troops in Syria, where they are engaged in anti-ISIS operations. @walaa_3ssaf No, dopey, I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2013[...]

The Feds Are Going After Trump's Lawyer. It Looks Pretty Bad: Reason Roundup

Tue, 10 Apr 2018 09:30:00 -0400

The feds raided the office and hotel of Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Federal agents raided Cohen's office, home, and hotel rooms and seized "records related to several topics including payments to a pornographic-film actress," according to The New York Times. "The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller's investigation, but likely resulted from information he had uncovered." A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2018 That information was at least in part related to Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn actress and director Stormy Daniels. According to The Washington Post, Cohen is under investigation for bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. None of the documents on Cohen are public yet, but the Post cites four people "familiar with the investigation" and reports that: Investigators took Cohen's computer, phone and personal financial records, including tax returns, as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center ... In a dramatic and broad seizure, federal prosecutors collected communications between Cohen and his clients — including those between the lawyer and Trump, according to [two sources]. "Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump appear to be vying for the world record for the longest one-night stand in history," quipped Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and deputy assistant attorney general, in The New York Times. I'll let him recap the Stormy settlement situation so far: Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump's troubles in the hush agreement case are of their own making. First, Mr. Cohen insisted, through his lawyer, that the president was never aware of the agreement and that Mr. Cohen acted wholly on his own. Then, speaking briefly to reporters on Air Force One last Thursday, Mr. Trump, echoing Mr. Cohen, said that he knew nothing about the arrangement. In saying so, he walked directly into the buzz saw of the legal position of Ms. Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti. The hush agreement identified Mr. Trump as a party and required him to do a number of things. But since he insists he didn't know about the agreement, there's no way he could have entered into it. Moreover, Mr. Trump's avowed cluelessness implies that Mr. Cohen induced Ms. Daniels to sign the agreement through fraud — a lie about Mr. Trump's performance of reciprocal obligations. Both of these circumstances invalidate the hush agreement's very formation under basic contract law principles. Daniels' lawyer Avenatti went on MSNBC to say he predicted Cohen would "fold like a cheap deck of cards." But Avenatti added: "With that said, I don't, I'm not applauding or high-fiving anybody's offices being raided by the FBI. It's a very, very serious matter. And I think that this is the first significant domino to fall." Writing here at Reason, attorney Ken White agrees that the raid is a very big deal. ("Be skeptical of the surge of misinformation and inaccurate legal takes that are certain to drop," he advises. "But watch. This is historic.") Meanwhile, Trump told reporters Monday night that the situation was "disgraceful" and "a total witch hunt." He called the raids of Cohen's properties "an attack on our country, in a true sense," and "an attack on what we all stand for." Evidently, Trump thinks that's the right to have an affair with an adult actress while your spouse stays at home with your newborn and then later pay your lover to keep quiet about it as you run for president without anyone taking notice or minding. There's good reason for Trump to be huffing and puffing. As Politico points out, "Cohen is among the loyal cohort that worked for Trump long before his campaign and remains close to the president. He told Van[...]

Bombs Away in Syria: Podcast

Mon, 09 Apr 2018 15:00:00 -0400

"Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria," President Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend. "Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big pay." So what will that mean, precisely? The president said this morning that he would make a decision on responding to the "heinous attack" within the next 24-48 hours, adding that such a "barbaric attack...can't be allowed to happen." As he was making that announcement, the Reason Podcast, featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman, and me, was wrapping up its Monday episode. In addition to wargaming Syria, assessing new National Security Adviser John Bolton, and wondering what this all does to Trump's favored policy of troop withdrawal, the editorial quartet discussed refugee policy, the president's deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, our burgeoning trade war with China, and Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg's coming perp walk on Capitol Hill. Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="166" frameborder="0"> Audio production by Ian Keyser. Relevant links from the show: "Hawks Cheer and Doves Cry as Trump Fails to Follow Through on Syrian Withdrawal," by Christian Britschgi "The Trump Administration Is Pursuing Regime Change in Syria Under the Guise of Fighting Terrorism," by Daniel DePetris "5 Things About John Bolton That Are Worse Than His Mustache," by Jacob Sullum "As World Refugee Population Hits All-Time High, U.S. on Pace to Welcome Third-Lowest Percentage in Recorded History," by Matt Welch "Wait: Why Do We Need MORE Troops To Stop FEWER Illegals?" by Nick Gillespie "Trump's National Guard Deployment to the Border Is Political Theater, Just Like Obama's and Bush's," by Matt Welch "How Congress Could Stop Trump's Trade War, and Why It Might Not," by Eric Boehm "Trump's Trade War Will Crush American Farmers, Fuel Soy Boys," by Eric Boehm "Trump, the Anti-Business President," by Steve Chapman "'Free-Market' Conservatives Welcome Their New Protectionist Overlord," by Matt Welch "Beware Censorship by Proxy," by Jesse Walker "Apple Wants Washington to Fix Facebook," by Ira Stoll "Don't Look to the State to Keep Social Media Companies From Imposing Ideological Conformity," by J.D. Tuccille "Obama Harvested Data from Facebook and Bragged About It. Why Are We Only Freaking Out About This Now?," by Declan McCullagh Don't miss a single Reason Podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.[...]