Staff Columnist

On Syria, politicians have shifting interpretation of Constitution

Rep. Rod Blum among 15 Republicans urging Trump to seek Congressional approval

U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

President Donald Trump was right about Syria.

No, not last week when he ordered airstrikes against Syrian government assets. I mean back in 2013, when he firmly cautioned former president Barack Obama against unconstitutional military action in Syria.

The political response to Trump’s evolving interpretation of the Constitution demonstrates the naked partisanship of U.S. foreign policy.

When Obama considered increased involvement in the Syrian conflict in 2013, 140 representatives sent a letter urging him to seek Congressional approval before taking action, as required by the Constitution. That included 119 Republicans and just 21 Democrats.

This month, 88 representatives sent a similar letter to the Trump administration, again advising the president to seek Congressional authorization for military action. That group included only 15 Republicans, and 73 Democrats.

“While the Founders wisely gave the Office of the President the authority to act in emergencies, they foresaw the need to ensure public debate — and the active engagement of Congress — before committing U.S. military assets,” members of Congress wrote.

What happened to those other Republicans, who told Obama to seek legislative guidance, but won’t now say the same to Trump? We are left to presume they only opposed Obama’s undeclared wars, but they support Trump’s.

Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, was one of the 15 Republicans signing the Syria letter last week. He had not yet been elected to Congress during the 2013 flare-up, but he also called for Trump to seek Congressional approval last year, the first time Trump ordered airstrikes against the Syrian military.

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“The system prescribed by the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973 has been consistently abused by past administrations — both Republican and Democrat. The strike against Syria should have been authorized by Congress and I urge President Donald Trump to seek authorization from Congress before further United States involvement in another country’s civil war,” Blum said in a prepared statement this week.

In contrast, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, published a message applauding Trump’s “precise global leadership” in attacking the Syrian government.

“We must remain unified with our allies to put a stop to these continued attacks on the Syrian people once and for all,” Ernst said.

That’s a sharp change from 2013, when Ernst and other Republicans seeking the U.S. Senate nomination said they were skeptical about U.S. military action in Syria. At the time, Ernst questioned, “why it is in our vital interests to use force in the midst of Syria’s ongoing civil war.” Yet today the Syrian civil war still is ongoing, and Americans are wondering why it’s in our vital interests to get involved.

During the 2016 presidential election, I saw foreign policy as one of the few issues where Trump was clearly better than Hillary Clinton. While Clinton promised to escalate the proxy war with Russia in Syria and elsewhere, Trump repeatedly called for to limit U.S. military involvement overseas.

Now Trump is doing his best to erase that distinction, and too many Republicans are cheering him on.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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