Trump’s (apparent) foreign policy shift; A brief primer on the mess in Syria; Presidential War Powers; Historians weigh-in


The big news, of course, is the US military strike on Syria in retaliation for their use of chemical weapons. The cynic in me says that Trump only did this to deflect from all the scandals ever-threatening his presidency, and to demonstrate that he is not a “Putin-Puppet.” (The president must expect that many of us will be cynical about it, which points to the problem of being a serial liar). But there can be no doubt that Assad’s use of chemical weapons did require an American response, though I am not qualified to offer much of an opinion as to whether this Tomahawk missile strike was the appropriate one. There have been a lot of people pointing out that as a private citizen and as a candidate, Trump criticized measures such as these, with the inference that this is a case of hypocrisy (and many have downright said it, on social media and elsewhere). I give him a pass on this, as many men have discovered that their conception of things change drastically once they see things from the perspective of the presidency. Yet this is indeed a big shift in the foreign policy goals he elucidated as a candidate and up to yesterday as president. Many of his supporters that applauded his campaign promise that we would stop being “the policeman of the world” are confused by this action. Does it mean he has changed his mind about the United States’ role in the world and is coming around to a more Republican (and ironically Hillary Clinton) stance, or was it just an impulsive response to a horrific event? It remains to be seen, but now if we could just get him to change his mind about Syrian refugees.

With the US now poised to possibly become more involved in Syria, it is a good time for another brief  history reminder of exactly what the conflict over there is all about, and Newsweek has got you covered. 

And then there is the weighty question of whether the president had the legal and constitutional authority to launch the strike. Democrats were quick to argue that he does not have that authority, and that he must seek the approval of Congress. While historians and legal scholars generally agree that the Founders intended for Congress alone to have the authority to go to war (except in cases of self defense), obviously presidents of BOTH parties have done so without congressional approval, and even the 1973 War Powers Resolution seems to have a loophole for these sorts of “one and done” type of strikes. The best article I have seen today that tries to dissect this complicated question is this one by Charlie Savage for the New York Times.

History News Network has quickly put together a brief collection of what historians have said about the Syrian strike. I’m not seeing a lot of detailed responses elsewhere, however, perhaps it is because so many of them are busy cutting loose right now in New Orleans at the OAH conference!



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