Pres­ident Donald Trump receives a briefing on a mil­itary strike | Via Wiki­media Commons

On the morning of April 6, the United States launched 59 cruise mis­siles at the the Assad-regime con­trolled Shayrat Airbase, in a direct response to a chemical weapons attack the regime com­mitted against rebel forces. Approx­i­mately nine Syrian sol­diers died in the strike.

This attack — which Con­gress did not approve — brought a trou­bling reality to the fore­front of political dis­course: These days, it seems the pres­ident pos­sesses nearly unlimited war-making powers. This past century, the exec­utive branch of our gov­ernment swal­lowed up the war-making powers the Con­sti­tution assigned to Con­gress. Ulti­mately, the way our Con­sti­tution has been under­mined both vio­lates our political prin­ciples and our ability to conduct a sound foreign policy.

In Fed­er­alist 69, Alexander Hamilton drew an important dis­tinction between the British monarchy and the American republic by out­lining the war powers of the pres­ident.

This power “would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the mil­itary and naval forces,” Hamilton said, “while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war… which, by the Con­sti­tution under con­sid­er­ation, would appertain to the leg­is­lature.”

By granting Con­gress the power to declare war and set aims, the Con­sti­tution ensured that the people would govern even the country’s foreign policy. The Founders meant our rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Con­gress to debate the rel­ative merits of mil­itary action before the country jumps headlong into war. We the people were meant to determine the national interest, not the unelected bureau­crats who advise the pres­ident.

Mil­itary the­orist Carl von Clausewitz argued in his mas­terwork, “On War,” that a con­flict would quickly descend into a quagmire with no good out­comes if it lacked clear policy goals.

“The strategist must define an aim for the entire oper­a­tional side of the war that will be in accor­dance with its purpose,” he wrote. “The aim will determine the series of actions intended to achieve it.”

The recent missile strike shows exactly how the country forgot both Clausewitz’s warnings and Hamilton’s wisdom by standing idly by while the imperial pres­i­dency took upon itself powers orig­i­nally given to Con­gress.

Many in the media have noted this strike on Syria seems to dis­tance Pres­ident Trump from the iso­la­tionist cam­paign promises. On Twitter and in the debates, he fre­quently con­demned Hillary Clinton’s inter­ven­tionist foreign policy ideas, par­tic­u­larly in relation to the civil war in Syria. But now, he seems to embrace some of these very policies.

“Regime change is some­thing that we think is going to happen,” Trump-appointed U.S. ambas­sador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said in a Sunday interview about Syria policy. “All of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.”
In spite of this apparent change in posi­tioning, however, White House aides tried to portray the attack as con­sistent with cam­paign promises.

“I think the Trump doc­trine is some­thing that he artic­u­lated throughout the cam­paign, which is America’s first,” White House press sec­retary Sean Spicer said during a briefing Monday. “We’re not just going to become the world’s policeman running around.”

To an outside observer, it appears the White House does not have clear policy goals when it comes to Syria. Pres­ident Trump acted deci­sively when he ordered the strike, but now it seems like con­fusion and mis­com­mu­ni­cation engulfs the one branch of gov­ernment the Founders intended to act with the most energy and force.

It may be totally against the national interest to become even more engulfed in Middle Eastern wars. The American people hated the dis­as­trous Iraq War, and many foresee an equally dan­gerous sit­u­ation in the complex Syrian civil war. Pru­dence may dictate that we avoid sec­tarian con­flicts and refuse to put American lives and treasure on the line again.

Or, it very well may be in the national interest to force regime change in Syria. The pro­lif­er­ation and use of weapons of mass destruction could desta­bilize an already volatile region, pushing the entire world closer to mil­itary con­flict — not to mention the human­i­tarian con­cerns asso­ciated with the Assad regime’s use of sarin gas. Mil­itary action and regime change may also very well be nec­essary to stem the power-grabs hostile coun­tries like Iran and Russia make in the region.

The Con­sti­tution gives us a way to determine which of those options is best. The people’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Con­gress should debate all sides of the issue can­didly, and come to a con­clusion by voting on our behalf. After Con­gress gives Pres­ident Trump’s mil­itary action spe­cific, well-out­lined goals, he should ener­get­i­cally and relent­lessly pursue those goals and achieve victory in Syria.

Foreign policy offers Pres­ident Trump a serious chance to fulfill his inau­gu­ration address’ promise of “trans­ferring power from Wash­ington, D.C. and giving it back to… the American People.” The so-called “deep state” and exec­utive agencies should not determine in secret whether or not we go to war. Only Con­gress has that power, even if the last several pres­i­dencies ignored that fact. Pres­ident Trump ought to respect that when con­sid­ering mil­itary action in the future.

Mr. Luc­chese is a junior studying American Studies and jour­nalism.