The US attack on Syria is completely legal and utterly moral. Here’s what Trump’s critics need to know

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President Trump’s calibrated and courageous decision to join France and Britain in striking chemical weapons targets in Syria before dawn Saturday drew support and opposition from members of Congress. Opponents have argued he should have sought congressional authorization for the military action in Syria. They are wrong.

President Trump’s action to attack Syria was exceptionally well-grounded legally. Self-evident moral authority supports using any reasonable means to protect innocents from the moral outrage of chemical weapons.

Ahead of the attack, Vice President Mike Pence personally notified House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He could not reach Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. He confirmed the limited nature, objectives and duration of the Syrian strike.

As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other U.S. officials made clear, America and our allies mounted a “one-off” attack to deter any future use of chemical weapons by Syria, a prerogative fully supported by international law.

President Trump’s thoughtful, well-planned, narrowly drawn and superbly executed strike on Syrian chemical weapons facilities wasted no time, ordnance or lives. Its purpose was clear, well-stated and well-served. It should be non-controversial. Still, he is attacked.

Neither President Trump nor anyone in his administration has suggested the onset of a long American military combat commitment in Syria.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley reaffirmed America’s resolve to prevent any further use of chemical weapons. She said Saturday at the U.N.: “I spoke to the president this morning, and he said, ‘If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded.’”

Nevertheless, leading Democrats have been vocal in demanding congressional approval for any U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2016, was quick to tweet: “Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress’ approval is illegal. We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war. Today it’s Syria, but what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?”

Kaine’s tweet is legally inept, and all but laughable, given that President Bill Clinton – husband of Kaine’s 2016 running mate, Hillary Clinton – undertook a long series of air strikes in Kosovo and elsewhere, without any congressional authorization or pretense to getting it.

Let’s cut to the nub: The 1973 War Powers Resolution was intended to dissuade presidents from long-duration combat engagements and insertion of large numbers of U.S. troops. The law grew out of a decade of U.S. combat in Vietnam. It presumes to require that presidents get congressional approval for military combat operations if they last more than 60 days.

Most legal scholars consider parts of the law unconstitutional. Presidents of both parties have generally demurred. No president has acceded to the law’s constitutionality.

That said, the interplay of executive and legislative branches on military matters – reflecting the constitutional balance between the Article II “commander-in-chief” powers and Congress’s Article I “declaration of war” powers – has always been respectful since Vietnam.

It was this time, also.

Yet some members of Congress still contend the War Powers Resolution has been triggered, or that President Trump must report to them before another strike.

This is nonsense. No president has been held to that standard, effectively transmuting the commander-in-chief’s authority to conduct limited duration, surgical strikes – consistent under international law and with allies – into a congressional prerogative.

Even the Authorization of Use of Military Force Act of 2001 – enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks – is not relevant here. That law was intended to address, and thus authorized, counterterrorism operations on a major scale, within set limits.

The law, which has been roundly criticized in recent years, opened the door to attacks on state and non-state actors tied back to the Sept. 11 attacks – but without a time limit. Whatever one thinks of the law, our attack in Syria is not that kind of operation, nor is any such mass deployment in Syria under discussion.

Still, critics in Congress demand President Trump defend his Syria action and come to them for permission. They want, it seems, to further limit the president’s already limited ability to use the U.S. military to defend our nation, forcing him to get their authorization for what he did and any strikes that may lie ahead.

Frankly, this is unnecessary, wildly premature at best, and somewhat embarrassing.

Congressional Democrats seem unable to stop themselves. They must attack this president. It is now an article of faith with the party, even if not backed up by the Constitution.

President Trump’s thoughtful, well-planned, narrowly drawn and superbly executed strike on Syrian chemical weapons facilities wasted no time, ordnance or lives. Its purpose was clear, well-stated and well-served. It should be non-controversial. Still, he is attacked.

Famously, Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, R-Mich., said in 1947 that “we must stop partisan politics at the water’s edge,” explaining his support for Democratic President Harry Truman’s foreign policy.

Where has that traditional consensus gone? Democrats senselessly pile on, joined by a small band of anti-Trump Republicans. The specter of such internal division is odd. It must be to our allies.

Be sure of this: These frivolous claims of illegality are watched, maybe even fanned, by our worst adversaries. Anything that divides us helps them.

Some days, the head spins listening to official Washington go to war with itself. In this instance, leading Democratic critics of President Trump cannot just say “thank you and well done.”

They must, it seems, twist this legally justified, masterfully concluded operation – one that serves the best-long term interests of America and the world – into an act worthy of partisan resistance.

When will this stop? When will we think again, as Vandenberg did, about the importance of unity for national security, national security for preserving moral values, and both as a way for making the world a better, safer place? If not a consensus around this event, then when?

For his extraordinary, thoughtful and entirely legal strike on Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure – establishing a new and higher level of credible deterrence to make the world a safer place – President Trump deserves our thanks, not our condemnation or attempts to limit his lawful authority as the commander-in-chief.