DANIEL CELAYA – On April 7, 2017, United States President Donald J. Trump ordered a targeted military strike aimed at Shayrat Airbase in Syria. Syria is in the midst of a complex civil war, with factions such as the Islamic State, the Syrian opposition, and the Syrian government all fighting for territorial control over the war-torn country. This was the first intentional attack by the United States to target Syrian government forces, who are led by President Bashar-al Assad. A total of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from the Mediterranean Sea and into Syria from destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross. Each Tomahawk missile costs about 1.41 million dollars, which means that this attack alone cost U.S. taxpayers almost 100 million dollars. Why did the United States launch this attack? President Trump made a statement the next day stating that the attack was a response to Assad’s use of banned chemical weapons against his own people, which violated the Chemical Weapons Convention.
However, this isn’t the first time that Assad uses internationally-banned chemical weapons, and it also isn’t his most egregious abuse of chemical weapons. The Assad regime used internationally-banned chemical weapons over 140 times, with single attacks killing and injuring thousands of people. Assad’s recent massacre that triggered U.S. military response injured or killed around 500 people (mostly children and women). While Assad’s actions are horrifying, the timing of U.S. military involvement given the context of Assad’s attacks has people wondering, why was this the last straw?
Experts are not buying Trump’s reasoning. After all, it was his own executive order that restricted admissions and halted new visa applications of citizens from Syria for 90 days and suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days (after which the program will be conditionally approved for countries on an individual basis). It is difficult to reconcile President Trump’s animus towards Syrian refugees with his purported zealous defense of Syrian citizens. For this reason, ruminations about the attack being politically motivated are growing. President Trump has an interest in showing that he is independent of Russia because he is under investigation by the F.B.I for his ties to Russia. Russia is supporting the Syrian government and Assad in the civil war, and the United States’ attack on Russia clearly upset the Kremlin.
Russia pressed for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on April 7th to discuss the missile attack. Before the session began, Russia notified the U.S. that it was going to suspend the “deconfliction” channel created to prevent inadvertent encounters between Russian and U.S. military in the same country. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley argued the U.S. position, which reflected the comments made by President Trump. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov analogized the missile strike with the events that led up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq because both were “without the consent of the U.N. Security Council and in violation of international law.” Bolivian Ambassador Sacha Llorenti sharply criticized the missile attack for violating the rule against unilateral attacks in the U.N. charter. Even China’s envoy to the United Nations, Liu Jieyi, urged for nations to use diplomacy instead of military force to solve the crisis in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling the missile strike “an act of aggression against a sovereign state delivered in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext.”
Constitutionally, there are opinions all over the board on whether President Trump’s use of force without congressional approval exceeded his powers under Article 2 of the Constitution. U.S. Representative Mark Pocan stated that there was “no legal basis” for the President’s missile strike. However, experts in constitutional law argue that Congress has “generally acquiesced” in these type of presidential uses of force. Because the attack did not implicate American lives, and because it only lasted a few minutes, the President’s action is likely lawful under the current interpretation of the Constitution.
 U.S. Dept. of Defense, NR-126-17, Statement from Pentagon Spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis on U.S. strike in Syria (2017).
 Syria: Donald Trump orders missile strike against Assad airfield in retaliation for chemical attack, ABC News (April 7, 2017), http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-07/us-launches-cruise-missile-strike-on-syria/8425132.
 U.S. Dept. of Defense, supra note 1.
 Debbie Lord, What is a Tomahawk cruise missile and what does it do?, AJC News (April 6, 2017), http://www.ajc.com/news/national/what-tomahawk-cruise-missile-and-what-does/4CPai962SIscEJyKRlaFLN/
 Videotape: President Trump Makes Statement on Syria (NY Times 2017),(https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000005032090/president-trump-makes-statement-on-syria.html).
 Ahmad al-Ali, How Many times did Assad Use Chemical Weapons?, Baladi News (April 7, 2017), http://baladinews.com/en/news/details/17851/How_Many_times_Did_Assad_Use_Chemical_Weapons
 Videotape: Poll: Why Is Trump Really Bombing Syria?(The Young Turks 2017), (https://youtu.be/QWWENoBEyns)
 Exec. Order No. 13780, 82 Federal Register 45, (March 6, 2017).
 Matt Apuzzo, F.B.I. Is Investigating Trump’s Russia Ties, Comey Confirms, NY Times (March 20, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/20/us/politics/fbi-investigation-trump-russia-comey.html
 Bill Chappell, Russia Says U.S. Broke International Law In Striking Syria, Citing ‘Pretext’, NPR (April 7, 2017), http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/07/522982477/russia-says-u-s-broke-international-law-in-striking-syria-citing-pretext.
 Faith Karimi, What you need to know about US strike on Syrian air base, CNN (April 7, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/07/politics/trump-syria-airstrike-what-we-know/.
 Chappell, supra note 14.
 Tom Kertscher, Mark Pocan wrongly claims Donald Trump had no legal authority to launch missile attack on Syria, Politifact (April 7, 2017), http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2017/apr/07/mark-pocan/mark-pocan-wrongly-claims-donald-trump-had-no-lega/