Reasons legitimate authority. Trump does not care about legitimation. In his vision of politics, the governors are to command; the governed, to defer.
Trump Does Not Care About Legality
In August 2013, Trump insisted that President Obama needed congressional approval before striking Syria. Obama came to agree. He sought approval and was refused. No strike followed.
On what basis did Donald Trump act in 2017? President Obama rested all his many military actions throughout the greater Middle East on the September 2001 authorization by Congress:
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
That authorization has been stretched and stretched and stretched. It even supplied the legal basis for Obama’s overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya. But there’s a limit even to the most generous definition of authority, and in Syria, we reached it. To the extent al Qaida is present in Syria—it’s on the other side of the war from Bashar al-Assad. One could argue (and Trump has argued!) that by fighting Assad, the U.S. would help al-Qaida and its ideological successor, ISIS. Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to switch sides. But where’s the legal warrant? Trump disdains the very question.
Trump Disregards Government Processes
In the next hours, journalists will be told a story about the decision-making process that produced the Syria strike. The first reports are not confidence inspiring. Mike Allen in Axios:
The White House sees this as "leadership week": the decision to order a missile strike on Syria after its deadly nerve-agent attack on its own citizens, including children; a prime-time announcement to the nation from Mar-a-Lago last night, in which Trump said, "God bless America and the entire world"; his assertive stance on North Korea, with the rogue state testing him by firing a ballistic missile; and meetings with the heads of state of Egypt, Jordan and, continuing today, China.
But here’s one thing we already know: There can have been no proper interagency process before the strike, because none of the relevant agencies of government other than the Department of Defense is properly staffed to join such a process. You can’t have a deputies’ meeting without deputies.
Every decision presents risks and costs, and any responsible decision maker insists on a detailed itemization of those risks and those costs. That cannot have happened here. Trump has walked into a military confrontation that implicates regional and global security with only the haziest notion of what might go wrong. One friend of mine has warned: “If it were good foreign policy, Trump wouldn’t be doing it.” Foreign policy is hard, and even the best process does not guarantee good outcomes. Sometimes you get lucky, and can escape the consequences of a bad process. But the odds are the odds. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, bad processes lead to ugly results.