The most profound act that a president does is to wage war. For this reason, the Constitution requires both the president and Congress to acquiesce in the use of force. In 1973, after a decade of unilateral presidential war-making in Southeast Asia that did not turn out so well, Congress reaffirmed its role in this weightiest of decisions by enacting the War Powers Act and subsequently overriding President Richard Nixon's veto of the law by a more-than two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress.
Now here we go again. The president, operating in his usual policy vacuum, orders a largely symbolic attack on Syria — the airfield hit by 59 cruise missiles was operational again the next day — after watching painful images of the consequences of a chemical attack on civilians. Instead of calling him out and demanding that he justify this act of war, Congress, with few exceptions, applauded the airstrike and declared without evidence that this marked a turning point in our Syria policy.
The mainstream media, as is always the case when the U.S. attacks anyone for any reason or no reason at all, lays down for Donald Trump and praises him for his decisive, “presidential” action. It did the same when President George W. Bush bombarded Baghdad in 2003, thereby launching the disastrous invasion of Iraq, and once again when President Barack Obama attacked Libya. Those adventures also turned out badly for us. Nevertheless, the Fourth Estate gushed with enthusiasm. Today, following the Syrian attack, the dropping of a monster bomb on Afghanistan and the confused, sudden saber-rattling vis-a-vis North Korea, the press does it again. Fox News we can understand. But when even anti-Trump cable outlets such as CNN and MSNBC fall into line, we have to say, “Now just a minute here. What’s going on? To what end are we doing this? What’s the policy?” We cannot allow the delirium of discredited media personalities like Brian Williams and numbing rehashers like Wolf Blitzer to do our thinking and analyzing for us.
Trump has demonstrated throughout his life that his first and only consideration is himself. Every action emanating from the White House must be evaluated with that in mind. None of what he is doing has anything to do with wise and thoughtfully considered U.S. policy or interests. An argument could be made that this president who has zero military experience and who, during the campaign, disrespected the military more than any other candidate in history, is using his authority as commander in chief to mask his mounting domestic troubles, his administration’s ineptitude and his campaign’s very disturbing relationship with Russia.
Instead of cheering dangerous and risky military entanglements, both Congress and the media owe it to us to ask probing questions and demand coherent answers. Syria is a mess with no good options for the U.S. President Obama dithered when there was still an opportunity to exert some influence over that sad situation. Jumping further into the Syrian chaos now will achieve nothing except risking American lives for no gain. Afghanistan has been a lost cause since the first Bush administration. Nothing we do there will make a dime’s worth of difference. That tormented nation has resisted every outside attempt to tame it since Alexander the Great.
Regarding North Korea, do we really want to get into a nuclear confrontation with an unhinged maniac who may not be quite as restrained and predictable as our Cold War adversary when it came to DefCons? Why are we putting South Korea at risk of a conventional artillery barrage?
Moreover, why is there now a growing consensus that our already bloated military needs an additional $54 billion? One set of statistics should give everyone pause. The U.S. arsenal today consists of 13,473 aircraft: Air Force: 5,554; Army: 4,431; Navy: 2,194; and Marines: 1,294. Many of their missions are duplicative. This huge number almost equals the rest of the world’s air arms put together.
Flying blind, the Trump administration is playing a very dangerous geopolitical game.
Do your jobs, Congress and the media.
Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.