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Print Version-Statement from Rep. Capuano on Syria


Statement from Rep. Capuano on Syria

April 7, 2017

The images from Syria are heartbreaking. So many innocent people were brutally murdered with poisonous gas at the direction of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I do not dispute that Syria has again used chemical weapons against its own people in contravention of international law and morality, as well as its own assurances to the Security Council that it would not do so. I also share President Trump’s outrage about these atrocities.

Nonetheless, Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution is very clear that ONLY, “The Congress shall have Power … To declare war.” No President can unilaterally engage in an act of war. Certainly, an intentional missile strike against a sovereign state, no matter how horrendous its government may be, is an act of war.

A few weeks ago, when the Trump Administration announced the deployment of more U.S. troops into Syria, I began working with other Members of Congress on legislation requiring the President to seek Congressional authorization first. That bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1923 was filed on Wednesday. The missile strike occurred on Thursday. An interesting coincidence with unforeseen timing – but a clearly foreseeable situation.

What is done cannot be undone, but from this point forward the President must seek from Congress the authorization that our Constitution requires before he takes any further military action in Syria.

Some Members will not want to address the issue because it is complicated and politically sensitive. But there are extremely important questions to consider and the entire nation, through their elected Representatives, deserves to be included in the debate. Congress should not shirk this responsibility.

Congress must debate the future role of the United States in this conflict. There are many questions that require thoughtful debate. Here are just a few:

  • Is the United States the sole police force of the world when it comes to preventing or punishing atrocities? Would other democratic nations ally with us, as in the past, when we made war against murderous regimes?
  • The United States must define the atrocities we are willing to punish. Is it only chemical attacks? How about the starvation of large populations by their own government or firebombing an unarmed civilian village?
  • Are there geographic, racial, ethnic, or other limitations to our outrage? How would the U.S. pay for the costs of such actions – raise taxes, cut domestic programs, or borrow more money?
  • What is our goal in Syria? Is there a plan to end the Syrian Civil War that Russia and other regional powers would support? Or, is this simple knee jerk retaliation?
  • Should the US welcome the victims of such atrocities into our country as refugees?
  • What happens when there are the inevitable consequences to our action, such as the Russian government cancelling an agreement to safeguard our pilots? How does the United States avoid World War 3?

I am certain there are many other questions that need to be asked and answered – and I do not know what the outcome of this debate would be.

This has nothing to do with who occupies the Oval Office or whether they are a Democrat or a Republican. This is about the Constitution. In 2011, I was one of four Members of Congress who sued President Obama in an attempt to force him to seek Congressional approval for bombing Libya.

Less than four years ago, Trump was strongly opposed to intervention in Syria. In 2013, commenting on President Obama’s actions against ISIS in Syria, Donald Trump tweeted "The President must get Congressional approval before attacking Syria-big mistake if he does not!"

We live in a democracy, not a monarchy – no one person has the authority to bring us into any war for any reason absent imminent threat against the American people. This is precisely why Congress needs to step up, have this debate, and take a vote. H.R. 1923 must be brought to the floor and Congress must act responsibly.

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