News & Politics

Trump Overruled Sec. Mattis to Attack Syria Without Congressional Approval After He Tweeted Threats: Report

The secretary of defense now has few allies who can help him constrain the president.

Photo Credit: DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Kathryn E. Holm

President Donald Trump rejected Secretary of Defense James Mattis' insistence that he needed congressional approval to attack Syria last week, according to a new report from the New York Times. Trump wanted to back up his threatening tweets, so he didn't want to risk the possibility that Congress could stop him from acting or slow him down, the report said.

Now that John Bolton is national security adviser, replacing H.R. McMaster, Mattis has few allies in the administration. Along with McMaster and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Mattis had been seen as one of the "adults" in the room restraining the president's worst impulses — but his power seems to be waning.

Trump's worst impulses were on display when he tweeted:

Mattis was on firm ground insisting that Trump request approval from Congress for a strike. The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, and the legal justification for the president's strikes in Syria remains highly dubious. Given the choice between following the Constitution and standing behind his tweets, it's not hard to guess how the president will act.

Hiring Bolton, an extreme foreign policy hawk who has advocated for the Iraq War and has defended the idea of launching a first strike against North Korea, also prefigured the strikes. By bringing him on, Trump made it clear he was likely to adopt a more aggressive stance on the world stage. 

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Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.