International Affairs

Trump bombed Syria without consulting Congress — one lawmaker wants to do something about it

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Congress has yet to address the lingering concerns many Americans have about unchallenged executive branch power to wage war and deploy American bombs on foreign soil, as the Trumpublican regime did in early April when our missiles flew in Syria.

Many of us were horrified by the chemical attack in Syria and images of those injured and killed. Who would not be moved by photos of children and babies suffering the ravages of war in all of its forms? But those who called for congressional engagement before our bombs rained down on any other nation have been attacked, as somehow unpatriotic or worse. Are we prepared to let our decisions to wage war be made only in private and without any ability for the American people to weigh in?

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is right to be raising the alarm, as the Trump administration perpetuates and accelerates yet another misguided regime change. In Syria, we are once again working to dismantle a Middle Eastern state led by a brutal dictator, and again, we have no long-term political strategy, and terrorists are positioned to fill the vacuum.

The images out of Syria have been horrific for some time now, and we abhor the use of chemical weapons. We can probably find common ground around protecting children and their innocence, but are we also determined to find that common ground upon which we stand for international law, that calls war criminals to account without more bombing and more dead babies, children, mothers, fathers and elders?

Before we bomb even one more foreign country with our impressive array of lethal weapons, we must determine if we really are a civilized nation that believes in the rule of law. If our answer is yes, then we must demand that Congress do its job, that lawmakers in both political parties rise to their responsibilities to the American people, to abide by the laws of this nation and, as a powerful force in the world, by international law. And we must go one step beyond that, by supporting congressional members from either party who ask the toughest of questions and demand accountability.

{mosads}When Tulsi Gabbard spoke up and insisted that we not continue this pattern of military intervention without sound evidence and congressional oversight, she was attacked viciously — even by some in the Democratic Party, like Howard Dean, who are anxious to prove themselves every bit as capable of lobbing bombs as anyone on the GOP side. No Democrat needs a scolding from Dean about congressional oversight before this nation wages more war.


Rest assured, there are others in Congress who have raised concerns as well in the wake of the Syria bombings. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote in an opinion piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle, “The Constitution explicitly vests Congress with the authority to declare war and appropriate money for conflicts, while the president serves as commander in chief.” Fortunately Lee was spared this time from the attacks on her patriotism that she has faced in the past, but Gabbard has been vilified for taking the same position.

Yes, some of what Gabbard has said and done is controversial, such as meeting with Trump shortly after the election in November 2016 to discuss staying out of the regime change war in Syria, and when she traveled to Syria in early 2017 with former congressional member Dennis Kucinich. But let’s not conflate controversial with wrong. Remember, it was the establishment, the “don’t rock the boat” majority, who led us into the Iraq War — a war surrounded by controversies of its own. It was the foreign policy “experts” who cast those who opposed intervention as naive pacifists or, worse, opening the door to Iraqi nuclear capability.

And now, once again, we have the establishment casting Tulsi Gabbard as a radical — a woman who served two tours in the Middle East, including Iraq, and who understands the cost of war better than most. I would argue that the radical option would be to blindly accept an accelerated march to regime change (as we’re still struggling to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq) without the careful review, congressional debate and authorization, and thoughtful decision-making that Tulsi Gabbard is demanding.

The congresswoman (rightly) believes the only way the Syrians can achieve peace is through a political solution. She maintains that overthrowing the Syrian government would cause more suffering, not less. As Gabbard expressed directly to me, stated publicly on multiple occasions, and has written repeatedly, “Overthrowing Assad would open the door for ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups who are the most powerful fighting forces on the ground to take over all of Syria, amass powerful weapons, and pose a far worse threat to the Syrian people, Christians and other religious minorities, and the world.” She warns allowing al Qaeda or ISIS to take over Syria “would produce a genocide and suffering on a scale beyond our imagination.”

Gabbard is right to draw parallels to Iraq and Libya. As she has said, “After our disastrous invasion of Iraq based on ‘indisputable’ evidence of WMDs, that resulted in over 500,000 dead Iraqis and 4,486 dead American troops, every veteran like myself has an absolute responsibility and duty to demand that Congress and the American public be presented with 1) evidence obtained via a thorough and neutral UN expert-led investigation before even considering the possibility of military action; and 2) a clear statement of what the goal of the military action is, and the strategy to achieve that goal.”

After the chemical weapons attack, Congress was not shown evidence demonstrating the Assad regime was responsible. Yet, we launched a missile strike on Syria without congressional approval, before the United Nations could carry out an investigation. In fact, our military involvement goes back even further — for years, we have been arming and supporting opposition groups in Syria, many linked to known terrorist organizations.

Many confuse Gabbard’s opposition to the recent bombing or regime change as supporting Assad. Those who call her an “Assad lover” or say she is “pro-Assad” should remember that prior to the 2003 attack on Iraq, people who warned against invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein were labeled “Saddam lovers” or “pro-Saddam.” If we had listened to those people, we might have saved thousands of American lives, not spent trillions of dollars abroad, and terrorist organizations may not be thriving in Iraq today.

The reality is that Gabbard is not pro-Assad — she’s pro-America. She’s a veteran who doesn’t want our country wasting limited resources on yet another regime change war, especially when there is so much that needs to be done right here at home. As the congresswoman has said, “We can’t afford to do both.”


Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, founded 2004, in Roxbury, Mass. Follow her on Twitter at @donnasicko          

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Iraq War Syria Tulsi Gabbard

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