US Military Action in Syria

By now it is well known that the Trump administration has sent an additional 400 Marines to aid rebel groups in taking the city of Raqqa, Syria from ISIS (Daesh). One major problem is that there has not been any authorization from Congress for it. President Obama cited the Authorization for Use of Military Force (PDF) that was passed in the aftermath of 9/11 as a justification for bombing Daesh in Libya last year, and President Trump is presumably relying on the same theory for his actions in Syria. There has been no new authorization of military force since 2002, when Congress authorized military action in Iraq. However, the AUMF 2001 has been used to expand this seemingly unending war in the Middle East.

Opposition to Troop Placements

A group of congressional Democrats is attempting to prevent any new military action without a new authorization bill from Congress. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with 15 other Democrats and one Republican, have sponsored a bill that would prevent President Trump from engaging in "yet another unchecked, ill-advised war without a full and robust debate from Congress." Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has also stated that the Trump administration's decision to deploy more US soldiers to Syria is ill-advised, noting that the administration has not provided any goals or strategies for increased US involvement.

New Military Authorization Bill

In addition to Senator Lee's bill, Senator Todd Young (R-IN) had introduced a new AUMF. This joint resolution is essentially a carbon copy of the 2001 AUMF, but is directly aimed at authorizing the president to wage a war against Daesh in Syria and wherever they may be found. It would authorize the president to "use all necessary and appropriate force against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, successor organizations, and associated forces." Furthermore, it would authorize the president to detain enemy combatants until they can be given a trial under the laws of war. Most interestingly, this joint resolution requires the President to submit to Congress a "comprehensive strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" within 30 days of the resolution's passage. Lastly, this resolution would repeal the Iraq AUMF. The resolution is currently in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.


With the proposed legislation from Sen. Young, the bill sponsored by Rep. Lee, et al., would be unnecessary. However, the sentiment is welcome. No president should be able to unilaterally take this nation to war. Though the Supreme Court has said that a state of war can exist without a formal declaration, the Constitution still requires Congress to declare war for war to be waged. Taking the Prize Cases and constitutional requirements together, an authorization of military force must be given by Congress for any military action to be carried out by the Commander-in-Chief. Add to this political calculus the War Powers Act of 1973, and it is clear that any military action must receive congressional approval before or immediately after action is taken. It would be best to require any military action to be authorized by Congress before it is carried out, so that it can retain its constitutional prerogative to declare war.

There is an argument to be made that the 2001 AUMF was so vague that it can extend to Daesh, since it is, or at least can be called, a successor organization to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda successor groups were covered in that AUMF. However, if we allow that definition to pass, we will be allowing an endless stream of successor wars. What happens when Daesh is finally beaten? Will that end the Syrian Civil War? It has become apparent that the war is never meant to be won, but to be eternal. With congressional approval before engaging in any military action, our representatives will at least have the opportunity to control when and where our military is used. Congressional pre-approval of war can force the president to not only justify military action, but provide an outline of the goals of the operation and the strategy for victory. But if the president can unilaterally send us to war, while using an authorization from over a decade ago to justify this new military action, we will never know peace.