- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2017

Most members of Congress have praised President Trump’s missile strike Thursday against a Syrian regime airfield used to stage for this week’s chemical weapons attack — but lawmakers say the White House needs to quickly detail its plans for what comes next.

The cruise missile strike was the proportionate response to the Syrian regime’s action, most members of Congress said.

But they are worried about the next steps, and appear anxious to pin down the policy of a president who just days ago was saying he wasn’t concerned about Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

“We cannot stand by in silence as dictators murder children with chemical weapons,” said Reps. Steve Russell and Seth Moulton, an Oklahoma Republican and Massachusetts Democrat who are chairmen of the Warrior Caucus of combat veterans in Congress. “But military action without clear goals and objective gets us nowhere. We look forward to hearing the president present a plan for Syria to the American people, for Congress to agree on bipartisan action, and for America to partner with the world community to help bring this treacherous conflict to an end.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi demanded that Republicans cancel a two-week spring break and reconvene the House to debate military policy in Syria.

“As heartbreaking as Assad’s chemical weapons attacks on his own people was, the crisis in Syria will not be resolved by one night of airstrikes,” she said. “The killing will not stop without a comprehensive political solution to end the violence.”

Mr. Trump acted under his powers as commander in chief, which according to the War Powers Resolution give him permission to commit the U.S. military to short periods of action, as long as he reports back to them and keeps them informed.

Some members of Congress, though, said even the limited strikes were ill-advised.

“While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” said Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican. “The president needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate. Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different.”

The debate Mr. Paul called for is about to begin, and one central question will be whether Mr. Trump wants to expand the level of military action — and whether Congress will be called upon to pass a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF in Washington-speak, to give its official backing.

President Obama committed U.S. arms and a small amount of American troops to Syria to help anti-regime rebels. Mr. Trump last month boosted the number of those troops.

But neither president sought congressional approval. Mr. Obama said he was acting under the 16-year-old AUMF that President George W. Bush received to pursue the Taliban, al Qaeda and associated terrorists. Mr. Obama said the Islamic State threat in Syria was an outcrop of al Qaeda, and therefore was covered under that old AUMF.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have long disputed that claim.

In 2015, after years of heckling from Congress, Mr. Obama wrote his own proposed AUMF for Syria and the fight against the Islamic State, and sent it over to Capitol Hill. Some members of Congress said it went too far, another faction said it didn’t go far enough — and the legislation was quickly shelved, leaving the president with a free hand to continue.

In 2013, after a previous use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, Mr. Obama had planned his own retaliatory strikes — then reversed course and came to Congress to ask for permission. He met with skepticism, and eventually turned to Russia to work out an agreement that saw the Russian government promise to police Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

On Thursday, the Trump administration said it’s now clear Russia has failed to do that — either because of incompetence or complicity.

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