Congress Is Powerless to Stop Donald Trump From Attacking North Korea

(ANTIMEDIA Op-ed)  In April of this year, Donald Trump launched a missile attack on a Syrian government airfield in response to a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. While members of the U.S. coalition in Iraq and Syria were notified before the U.S. strike — as was Syria’s staunchest backer, Russia — this was a direct attack on a sovereign nation that took place without any congressional approval or democratic debate in any way, shape, or form.

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As Newsweek explained:

“U.S. law states that the president needs congressional authorization to conduct military action against a foreign state, but Trump has already circumvented this process with impunity. In April, reports emerged that Syrian warplanes had conducted a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria. Despite denials of involvement by both the Syrian and Russian governments, Trump decided less than 72 hours later to launch a salvo of Tomahawk cruise missiles from Navy warships against a Syrian air force base, without asking Congress’ permission.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh’s investigation of the incident alleged that Donald Trump took this action without even having the intelligence to support it. Trump ordered the strike before any half-decent intelligence could possibly have been gathered and presented to him and his staff. Multiple high-profile experts have cast doubt on the U.S. government’s claim that the Syrian government conducted the chemical weapons attack, including MIT professor Ted Postol, who previously worked for the Pentagon.

One minor detail overlooked by the media is the fact that Trump ordered the strike while he was dining with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and was forced to notify Jinping of his decision during dessert.

Why is this important? North Korea’s only real ally is China. Trump has been berating North Korea for most of this year yet has stayed relatively silent on his plans to intervene further in the Middle East against the Syrian government with only one exception — the April missile strike and his administration’s subsequent calls for regime change in the days surrounding the events. Since this incident, Assad has barely received a passing mention from Trump himself. (He has also incessantly lambasted Syria and Russia’s common ally, Iran, but that is a topic for a separate article).

So where is all of this headed? As Newsweek explained further:

“The sudden strike [against Syria in April] shocked the international community and raised serious concerns about the president’s ability to attack foreign countries without legal oversight, many of which have not been answered since. Hours after the April attack on Syria, Trump began threatening nuclear-armed North Korea with similar action and has been approaching the crisis with increasingly militant rhetoric ever since.”

Sometimes, when an international legal principle doesn’t exist in any formal legal document,  an entity will seek to create a precedent out of thin air, which they can then rely on in future. By citing the Syrian strike that took place without congressional approval — and had very little resistance from American legislators or the international community (with the exception of Russia and Iran) — the U.S. might attempt to argue that the precedent for the U.S. president to launch a preemptive strike against another country already exists with regard to international law.

This is hardly a legal precedent worth citing, however, when the U.S. is the only country allowed to do this with impunity.

Indeed, that is what the U.S. has been doing throughout the Middle East and beyond for decades. Because our respective institutions, both domestic and international, have allowed the invasion of Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan to go virtually unchallenged, Donald Trump has very little in his path that can stop him from launching a war against North Korea.

But what is the result? According to Newsweek, “Such a strike on North Korea could have unprecedented deadly consequences and not even Trump’s generals could stop him from ordering it.”

The most disturbing element of this narrative is that none of this was done by accident. As noted by journalist Glenn Greenwald:

“What happened to Obama as a result of involving the U.S in a war that Congress had rejected? Absolutely nothing, because Congress, due to political cowardice, wants to abdicate war-making powers to the President. As a country, we have decided we want an all-powerful president – one who can bomb, and spy, and detain, and invade with virtually no limits. That’s the machinery of the imperial presidency that both parties have jointly built and have now handed to President Trump.”

To make matters worse, if, indeed, the power to declare war lies solely with the president and not America’s democratic institutions (or the U.N., for that matter), it is not even clear if the U.S. is already at war with North Korea. If Congress wants the president to hold the power to declare war, hasn’t Donald Trump already declared war — or at least threatened it — against North Korea multiple times in the last few months, alone? North Korea certainly feels that way, and if pushed, it could be the isolated nation that decides to strike first. When this happens, all bets will be off the table.

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