Following Syria strike, some senators look to restrict executive powers

Courtesy of Flickr | The recent Syria strike has led some senators to question presidential authority.

Alexander Wolfe | Staff Columnist


The fallout after President Biden’s first true use of force, an airstrike in Syria targeting Iranian proxy forces, has been muted in strange ways. We all know by now that domestic politics are just as relevant to military success as proper tactical and operational execution, and the new administration’s charted course to mitigate any legislative or popular protest seems to indicate its overestimation of public awareness.

Not to say that the public should ignore airstrikes — 24 militants were killed in the bombing in addition to an American private contractor — but the most notable reaction to the bombings came after a man called into Texas AM radio to decry Biden’s attacks on patriotic militias.

Astounding confusions with right-wing American militia groups aside, the House of Representatives issued no official statement of support or rebuke, Pelosi cracked the whip, while the 50-50 senate has been quiet as well.

Yet some Democratic senators find themselves in a perplexing position, with the traditionally anti-war views of the Democratic base generally at odds with any move to strike against militants abroad.

Tim Kaine (D-VA) released a statement on Tuesday saying he would introduce a bill to limit presidential war powers while updating the 1974 War Powers Act. As a powerful member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Kaine’s words carry weight, particularly his complaints regarding the lack of notification or consultation with relevant elected officials.

Yet I believe the center cannot hold, by which I mean that a frail impetus for a policy debate is unlikely to result in the type of comprehensive bipartisan push necessary to properly reign in presidential authority.

The strike itself was relatively small, conducted in the interest of preserving the interests of America, or at least its allies, in the region. The point of the strike wasn’t to eliminate the infrastructure supporting terrorist operations, although that was an added bonus, but rather to send a message to Iran and other nations questioning the foreign policy philosophy of the new administration.

Running counter to all things Trump, President Biden’s attempts to draw contrast between himself and the former president was clearly successful, but this success emboldened trace elements of insurgent forces, particularly with state backing.

I see this airstrike as the small-scale alternative to the Sulemani bombing raid, an attack that sends a clear message to Iran without further vilifying the U.S. to Iranian citizens. A targeted airstrike against proxy forces should not garner Congressional legislation, despite the necessity of that legislation.

Context is everything in politics, and those senators supporting legislation to restrict presidential war powers as a reaction to what has become at this point a standard operational tool are clearly oblivious to the context.

Even if the technical Democratic majority was willing to bring a war powers proposal to a vote, it’s unlikely to find much support among traditionally hawkish Republicans. The U.S. is slowly reducing its Middle Eastern footprint, and no resolution is necessary to disrupt the Biden administration’s existing plans to broadly withdraw from Afghanistan and other conflict zones.

Similar demonstrations may occur within the next few months targeting North Korea, Pakistan or even China. A show of force at the beginning of each new American presidency has become somewhat of a rite of passage for 21st century presidents, and Biden has thus far chosen to continue the pattern. Presidential powers are like tools: Some may hinder more than others, but it’s usually better to have more than less.

The Armed Services Committee should certainly be better informed, but within that context the question must be asked: Would Tim Kaine care about the strikes if he’d gotten a text beforehand?