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By Saagar Enjeti
President Donald Trump legally justified his Thursday strike on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s airbase by invoking his authority under the U.S. Constitution.
Trump launched the strike Thursday over Assad’s use of chemical weapons in an attack Tuesday.
“It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump declared after ordering the strike. Trump’s justification relies on Article 2 of the Constitution, and cites the national interest as “promoting regional stability, which the use of chemical weapons threatens,” per administration talking points obtained by Josh Rogin of the Washington Post.
“No authorization from Congress is necessary,” the talking points assert. “The U.S. strikes were a justified use of force because of several factors, including promoting regional stability, discouraging the use of chemical weapons, and protecting a civilian population from humanitarian atrocities.”
Trump also recalled Assad’s violation of Syria’s own international commitments as basis for the strike saying, “there can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council.”
Lawfare, in an analysis of the White House’s pretext for the bombing, notes that the Office of Legal Council does not classify a “relatively short-term and small-scale operations abroad” as “war.” A longer term agreement would need an authorization for use of military force from Congress.
“As long as the military intervention in Syria is short term and limited and does not involve ground troops against Assad forces, it breaks no new legal ground,” Jack Goldsmith of Lawfare declared.
Marty Lederman, a legal expert at Just Security, conversely said the strike was likely not constitutional because it violates the United Nations charter. A breach of the U.N. charter would require congressional approval, which Trump did not seek before military action Thursday. The lack of authorization puts Trump in breach of the Constitution, per Lederman’s thinking.