President Donald Trump can easily turn the table on his critics and return the responsibility for the wars to Congress, which has the Constitutionally enumerated duty to authorize overseas military action.
The president can correctly say that Syria was never authorized by Congress and that the 2001 AUMF never contemplated we would be in Afghanistan for 17 years (and counting!) with no end in sight. Also, the 2001 AUMF is not a mandate, but rather an authorization for the president to take action at his discretion. He is fully permitted to decide to not send troops. Simply put, even if one argues that the 2001 AUMF is elastic enough to authorize endless military engagements, permission to do something does not equate to a requirement to send troops.
The president can put the responsibility for staying in Syria and Afghanistan in Congress’s court by saying: these two wars were not properly authorized, and I [the president] plan to start bringing our troops home in 30 days, unless Congress specifically votes to authorize each of these engagements and our sending of troops to fight in Syria and Afghanistan. I am going to follow the Constitution, even when Congress prefers to ignore it. It is time for Congress to either vote for these wasteful wars or shut up when I stop them.
It is perfectly clear that for the past decade every attempt to hold a vote on the wars, except one, has been quashed by the leadership, which knows well that the American people overwhelmingly do not support these wars. For this reason President Barack Obama chose to not seek congressional approval for his war in Syria in the summer of 2013. The British Parliament had just voted against military action in Syria.
When faced by the onslaught from Washington’s chattering class whining that the president cannot withdraw the troops, Trump’s answer should be that the Constitution is clear and those legal “experts” are only advocating for an imperial presidency, which the framers of our Constitution ardently sought to avoid.
George D. O’Neill, Jr., an artist, is the founder of The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy and a board member of The American Ideas Institute, the parent of The American Conservative. He and his wife reside in Florida.