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Why I Sued My Commander-in-Chief, President Obama

In 2014, President Barack Obama redeployed American troops to Iraq [1] in a conflict that would eventually expand into Syria. This decision was reached unilaterally, without true congressional debate, let alone authorization.

So while serving in uniform, I decided to sue my commander-in-chief [2], challenging what I believed to be an unconstitutional order. I hoped that my lawsuit might galvanize Congress to reassert its authority and vote on a new AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) that would either approve of or end the conflict.

I failed. Congress refused to act, acquiescing silently as the executive branch usurped even more of its authority.

Congress shamelessly stood by as American troops were ordered into harm’s way ostensibly to defeat ISIS but absent any regional strategy or off-ramp. Never have I regretted my lawsuit, and in the three years since, I have grown ever more disgusted with a political elite who offer no solutions beyond perpetual war. Like most Americans, I realize something is deeply wrong with our foreign policy and that a course correction is needed.

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Against this backdrop, I have reflected on the decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw troops from Syria. Do I think his decision-making process was flawed? Yes.

Do I fear for the Kurds who are caught between a hostile Turkey and dangerous Syrian regime? Very much so.

Do I worry that the Islamic State remains potent and dangerous even in its admittedly weakened state? I do.

But can I bring myself to condemn this action to bring home troops during a time of forever war, in a regional quagmire with no clearly defined objectives and zero congressional authorization? I cannot.

The last several weeks have witnessed a smorgasbord of punditry decrying the withdrawal decision as irresponsible. As so often seems the case with America’s media and politicians, however, this criticism misses the point and reeks of hypocrisy.

If America’s troop presence is so obviously necessary in Syria that a withdrawal will prove catastrophic to our national security (as is contended), then why has it proven impossible over the last four years for Congress to actually vote for the conflict? As a soldier who was once involved in these hostilities, it is fair for me to ask that question. Just as with my lawsuit three years ago, however, expect to hear nothing but deafening silence.

The hypocrisy here is rank, and examples abound. For brevity’s sake, let’s take the case of the lawmaker whose actions more than any other illustrate the cynical ceding of congressional power in pursuit of shallow partisan victories. Former senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, was from 2015 until this January the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the body charged with congressional war-making powers.

In three years as chairman, Corker could have led on the issue. He could have hammered out an AUMF to be voted up or down. He failed miserably. Under Corker’s tenure, no AUMF ever reached the Senate floor. Many drafts have apparently died almost at the moment of inception, most likely for political reasons. Who wants to be on the record voting for war? Yet this has not stopped Corker from derisively declaring Trump’s Syria withdrawal announcement “obviously a political decision [3].”

Americans instinctively understand that the Republic depends on each branch of government jealously guarding the powers assigned to them by the Founders. Congressional leaders putting an end to absurd national security clauses in seemingly every statute passed over the last 30 years and clawing back a role in authorizing wars qualify as prime examples. Yet time and again, Corker failed to do that, prioritizing narrow partisan victories over his own oath to the Constitution. While he may go to his political grave reveling in his witty #AlertTheDaycareStaff tweets directed at the president, he will also go knowing that his duty to protect congressional authority regarding war powers against this and future presidents went disgracefully undone.

I am tired of seeing Christmas Facebook posts from my friends’ spouses serving in forgotten conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, where the military has done its job but policymakers have failed to do theirs. I am tired of seeing poll after poll [4] demonstrating public dissatisfaction with U.S. military actions while no course correction is ever attempted.

After four years warning of dangerous precedents and speaking against the immorality of putting troops in harm’s way absent legislative approval, Congress has still not voted. So even if it’s four years late, and even if it’s the wrong branch of government initiating the action, and even if the process leaves much to be desired, I will accept this end to an illegal war.

In the long term, America needs a dramatic change that involves more than just the executive branch. Until we arrive again as a nation at that moment, however, my military friends deserve the same vantage point to the dysfunction as most Americans: at home, surrounded by family and friends, rather than far away in an endless, illegal war.

Nathan Smith is a former Army officer with deployments to Kuwait and Afghanistan. In 2016, while serving in the command headquarters of Operation Inherent Resolve in Kuwait, Nathan became the plaintiff in the lawsuit Smith v. Obama (subsequently Smith v. Trump) alleging violations of the War Powers Resolution due to the lack of specific congressional authorization for the war against ISIS.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Why I Sued My Commander-in-Chief, President Obama"

#1 Comment By One Guy On January 25, 2019 @ 1:21 pm

Trump isn’t “getting out” of Syria. The only news I’ve seen says he’s ordered some equipment removed. But I agree with you.

#2 Comment By Stephen J. On January 25, 2019 @ 1:55 pm

Links of interest below.
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#3 Comment By PAX On January 25, 2019 @ 2:05 pm

Our consensus is framed by a knee jerk 4th estate and compliant bought and paid for politicians. This is a worthwhile essay. Les Invisibles, however, remain untouched. Who benefits by these internal wars?

#4 Comment By sglover On January 25, 2019 @ 2:24 pm

I look forward to The American Con running an article from a soldier who decides to sue Trump for lying and hanging on in Syria. Something tells me it’ll be a long wait.

#5 Comment By Fred Bowman On January 25, 2019 @ 3:22 pm

Trumps talks about leaving Syria but have I have my doubts with Bolton and Pompeo still in his administration. On the AUMF, it’s a necessary tool when used properly and by that I mean one that has mission and time constraints built into it. Unfortunately it became a tool for politicians to “wash their hands” of taking any responsibly for never ending wars in the Middle East.

#6 Comment By TS On January 25, 2019 @ 4:14 pm

Trump did decide that we should withdraw troops from Syria after a phone conversation with President Erdogan of Turkey. John Bolton subsequently reversed that decision without consulting with the president, and the president has since been backed away toward taking months to do it, to ensuring the Kurds’ safety before we go, and other conditions that will never be met. The people wholly invested in this war will never allow it to diminish or end. It is allowing trillions of dollars to be moved from public into private hands, and ensuring corporate control of resources all over the world.

#7 Comment By ELW On January 25, 2019 @ 4:16 pm

Thank you, Nathan Smith, for trying. It’s something.

#8 Comment By Anne Mendiza On January 25, 2019 @ 6:23 pm

It took about 3 minutes for Bolton to “clarify” Trump’s promise to leave Syria as an empty threat subject to conditions that translate to a permanent U.S. military presence in Syria. In fact, Trump has deepened every conflict he inherited. So long as Trump surrounds himself with hawks, the U.S. military will not leave Syria.

Meanwhile, war drums beating an Iranian tune have now added a Venezuela section. The danger is that Trump will start more wars by ignoring Congressional war powers just like his predecessors.

#9 Comment By DF On January 25, 2019 @ 7:31 pm

Trump will withdraw troops from Syria only if and when Israel says so. Period.

#10 Comment By Tulan G On January 25, 2019 @ 10:11 pm

Thank you Mr. Nathan Smith.

Nothing will change in Washington DC because people keep electing the same Communist idiots over and over again and again. And the Communist Democrats cheat, lie and steal to win elections, which is the main reason why they are fighting a wall on the southern border….their voters are illegal aliens.

#11 Comment By Fayez Abedaziz On January 26, 2019 @ 12:49 am

So these actions by, well, Bush, Obama and now ignorant of all real history Trump, are…illegal?
Yeah, they are, but how about the words ‘immoral’ and ‘genocidal,’ eh?
Well? What the hell, invading nations and outright slaughter with bombers and all those psycho American and NATO troops going from house to house, town to town in Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorizing families, killing them and raping teen girls too.
What kind of a sick society is this when any talk or writing I hear and see, is some weak blather about, well gee, maybe we should get the Congress weasels to approve of our forays into destroying nations,you know..?
And, before any of you all start with this patriotic bull about what the US military does(which is not going ‘over there’ to protect this nation) and what I say, well, too bad I don’t wanna hear that since ‘patriotism is another thin wall of refuge’ is where and what gung-ho immoral people that blindly support the military do.
Also, where are the so-called antiwar ‘liberals’in the houses of Congress? What a bunch of sniveling hypocrites just like the number of dumb citizens that don’t know and don’t wanna know about America’s anti- Constitution foreign policy. How ’bout that.

#12 Comment By Fran Macadam On January 26, 2019 @ 2:55 am

“I look forward to The American Con running an article from a soldier who decides to sue Trump for lying and hanging on in Syria.”

The article says the lawsuit has been inherited by and now names President Trump.

#13 Comment By Ernest Dempsey On January 26, 2019 @ 5:42 am

It takes courage to say No to your boss when you see him/her wrong. So I appreciate your courage. I do not think Obama wanted to remove ISIS – he wanted to remove Assad. And that would be awful for the region as Assad doesn’t let ISIS take over. So thanks to Russia for stepping in and failing Obama’s plan.

#14 Comment By kb On January 26, 2019 @ 10:12 am

@sglover: “I look forward to The American Con[servative] running an article from a soldier who decides to sue Trump for lying and hanging on in Syria”

Suing your Commander in Chief for violating his constitutional authority, while in uniform and deployed in a war theater, is the very definition of heroic. Captain Smith likely took mortal risk in dong so. It is no different than refusing an order that the recipient believes constitutes a war crime, and suffering the repercussions of that.

I have no idea of the Captain’s particular circumstances (was he headquarters staff? deployed forward?), but the intention in his actions is noble. Better to be transparent about the change in our institutions as the war power shifts from legislative to executive, than to fall to the Roman practice of opaque legislative facade.

#15 Comment By kingdomofgodflag.info On January 26, 2019 @ 4:59 pm

Is it a just war?

While I acknowledge that The American Conservative is a national publication devoted to covering American culture and politics, I note that at least some of its writers are Christians. The subject of America’s wars is a common theme here and the Christian writers who cover it do so from a national interest perspective. As a Christian, this puzzles me. I think we can agree that, as Christ was not of this world, we who are his followers are not of this world. We are citizens of the kingdom he inaugurated, manifested by fellow citizens around the world, but living in a kingdom of the world.

America’s wars are prosecuted by a military that includes Christians. They seldom question the killing their country orders them to do, as though the will of the government is that of the will of God. Is that a safe assumption for them to make? German Christian soldiers made that assumption regarding their government in 1939. Who was there to tell them otherwise? The Church failed. (The Southern Baptist Convention declared the invasion of Iraq a just war in 2003.) This is where the Christian writers of The American Conservative come in. Rather than commenting upon whether a particular war is in the best interest of the kingdom of the world in which they live, they should be considering whether it is the will of God and whether Christians should participate. That means that, if they’re not pacifists, they should be applying Just War criteria in their evaluations. If Just War theory is now irrelevant, we’re left with Christian Pacifism as the default response. Otherwise, Christian soldiers need to know when to exercise selective conscientious objection, for it is better to go to prison than to kill without God’s approval.

#16 Comment By Stephen On January 27, 2019 @ 12:15 am

Fran Macadam: “The article says the lawsuit has been inherited by and now names President Trump.”

AFAIK the lawsuit is now over, albeit it ended in farce after the three judges for the Court of Appeals for the DIstrict of Columbia circuit (who were hearing the appeal from the District Court case) waited NINE MONTHS to finally deliver their verdicty (on July 10, 2018).

You can read their judgment at:

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In essence, the judges waited just long enough for Captain Smith to leave the Army. They then had the cheek to claim that because Smith was no longer in the Army the case had “become moot” and therefore should be dismissed.

#17 Comment By Mimi On January 27, 2019 @ 4:31 am

Thank you for trying and for the brave decision you made to act on the truth.

Those of us who see the illegality and sheer affront of those calling for endless war, feel that there isn’t much we can actively do except to’keep an eye on the bastards’. Our one chance of change is an election every four years, but the war mongerers have cleverly co-opted both parties so there is no real choice.

These ideologues are endangering the lives of Americans who are coerced by their rah rah promotion of patriotism and black and white thinking of ‘them against us.’In the meantime, large military OEMs are raking in the money and the without risking a hair in the wars from which they profit.

I just hope that your friends wouldn’t be sending their next Christmas cards from Venezuela, another failed state created by them and now to be sustained by uber-neocon, Elliot Abrams.

#18 Comment By Stephen J. On January 28, 2019 @ 2:24 pm

The article on “Syria” at link below has much information that could be of interest.
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January 28, 2019
“The Plot Against Syria: And The Reported Settlement Of ‘terrorist militants’ in Canada”

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#19 Comment By One Guy On January 28, 2019 @ 4:21 pm

I’ve seen Trump called many things, but calling him a “Communist” idiot is a first.

#20 Comment By Jett Rucker On January 28, 2019 @ 8:04 pm

I don’t trust America’s media (not EVEN The American Conservative, since they fired Philip Giraldi), and I don’t trust America’s politicians, either.

#21 Comment By Henry Miller On January 30, 2019 @ 8:56 am

I.e., Congress is composed mostly of irresponsible jerks whose only interest is getting re-elected. They don’t care about the Constitution or separation of powers, they just want the power, the prestige(?), and the pay cheque, a thoroughly unearned $174,000 per year.

There are, of course, exceptions to that general rule. There are members of Congress who take their jobs seriously–and by “seriously” I mean “using their powers to try to ram their imbecilic ideologies down the country’s collective throat.” Usually, these are probably well-meaning but terminally ignorant window-lickers who want to Do Good–with, of course, vast amounts of Other Peoples’ Money. (There are, of course, exceptions to that rule too–the megalomaniacs, the would-be dictators, the modern-day Bolsheviks, who just want to rule and don’t give a damn who they hurt or whether it wrecks the country.)

Thomas Jefferson suggested “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” and by “now and then” he meant about every 20 years. We’re long overdue. My take is that we’re on the edge of a revolution, the only question being whether it involves ballots or bullets. We have a great Constitution, but if the government it created won’t abide by it and defend it, it’s time to change the government.

Quoting Jefferson again,

“… when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security… The history of the present [government] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”