Behind The Syria Strike. The Good, The Bad, And The Illegal
In response to the chemical attack that took place on Tuesday Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airbase without the approval of Congress or of the United Nations Security Council. This raised the question of, “was this legal?”
A lot can be drawn out from the missile attack. According to The New York Times “the strike raises two sets of legal issues. One involves international law and when it is lawful for any nation to attack another. The other involves domestic law and who gets to decide — the president or Congress — whether the United States should attack another country.”
Trump had no clear authority under international law to attack Syria. And according to The United Nations Charter, a treaty the United States has ratified, there are only two reasons Trump could attack another country’s soil without its consent: One being in self defense and the other one with permission of the Security Council.
So was the strike legal then?
Well, like The Times reported, the answer is “murky.” This is because of a double standard. If we are referring to the Constitution, then yes the strike on Syria was in fact illegal. Most legal scholars agree that the founders wanted Congress to decide whether to go to war, except when the country is under an attack.
But the other standard is how the country has been governed by practice. Throughout history, presidents of both parties, have carried out military operations without consent from Congress.
On Thursday, Trump said, “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
But just because past presidents have called for military interventions in foreign soil does it mean Trump’s Syria strike was legal?
Well according to Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, “the President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.”
According to Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who led the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department in the Bush administration:
“The interests invoked — protecting regional security and in upholding or enforcing important treaty norms — will always be present when the president is considering military intervention,” he wrote. “Taken alone — and they are all we have here — these interests provide no practical limitation on presidential power.”