News & Politics

Trump in 2013: 'The President Must Get Congressional Approval Before Attacking Syria'

President Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 24, 2017, in National Harbor, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

On Thursday night, the U.S. military launched more than 50 Tomahawk missiles, attacking the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria. President Donald Trump issued the order in response to Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people. Trump seems to have forgotten his own declaration, in 2013 against President Obama, that congressional approval is necessary to attack Syria.

In what reads like a parody of himself, Trump condemned Obama for doing what he himself would later do. “The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!”

In a hilariously ironic twist of fate, President Obama actually did request congressional approval after the Assad regime allegedly crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons against people in Syria. The request never made it to the House or Senate floor for a vote, however.

Following Trump’s suggestion and holding back from retaliation against the Assad regime left the impression of Obama as a weak president who did not keep his promises.

President Obama began firing missiles into Syria against the Islamic State (ISIS) on September 23, 2014. According to the Central Command press release, U.S. military forces joined with partner nations — Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Quatar, and the United Arab Emirates — to conduct 14 strikes against ISIS targets.

Congress never did give Obama the authorization, but the president claimed that the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) passed by Congress on September 14, 2001, following the 9/11 attacks justified his actions. By April 2015, the Obama administration had fired almost 3,000 missiles into Syria and Iraq without congressional authorization, The Washington Times reported.

Trump repeatedly warned Obama against attacking Syria. “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day!” he tweeted.

At one point, Trump resorted to caps: “AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER, DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA – IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!”

But President Trump seemed moved by reports of a Sarin gas attack earlier this week. At a joint news conference with the king of Jordan Wednesday, the president said reports of the gas attack “very much” changed his “attitude toward Syria and Assad.”

Fittingly, the Tomahawk missiles struck the airbase which launched the very planes that carried out the Sarin gas attack on the Syrian neighborhood Tuesday.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul condemned the airstrikes Thursday evening, arguing that “while we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked.” Therefore, “the president needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.”

Paul further warned that America’s “prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer and Syria will be no different.”

Utah Senator Mike Lee agreed.

Senators John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) saluted Trump for sending “an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs.”

McCain and Graham explicitly contrasted Trump to Obama. “Unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action,” they declared. “For that, he deserves the support of the American people.”

They concluded the statement by calling for “a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria.” They advocated taking Assad’s air force “completely out of the fight,” bolstering “support for the vetted Syrian opposition” and establishing “safe zones to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

Ironically, MSNBC commentator Chris Hayes pointed out, members of Congress praised Trump’s military action, after very few of them were willing to vote for it in 2013. “The open, dirty secret of the Imperial Presidency is that congress doesn’t actually *want* the responsibility,” Hayes quipped. (Why else do you think the Administrative State continues to grow? Congress doesn’t want any responsibility.)

One thing is for certain: Trump said one thing in 2013, and now he is doing the exact opposite. Is he trying to prove his conservative critics right?