Evidence first

In 1793, President Washington was under heavy pressure to launch a war against the Chickamauga nation. He put the issue before Congress and Congress declined to declare war. On August 28, Washington informed a southern governor who had been calling for war, “The Constitution vests the power of declaring war with Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure.”

Two hundred and twenty years later, on August 23, 2013, a chemical attack occurred in Ghouta, Syria. U.S. intelligence contended that Syria’s Assad government had likely conducted the attack. President Obama asked Congress for authorization to use force against the Assad government. Over a period of weeks, the director of national intelligence and other officials said there were doubts about the conclusiveness of U.S. intelligence, some members of Congress expressed skepticism about an intelligence report submitted to Congress but not disclosed to the public, and one analyst said the available evidence had been “cherry-picked” to support use of force. Congress declined to even vote on use of force. Subsequently, there were indications that rebel forces may have been producing sarin gas, and this week United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter described U.S. intelligence about Ghouta as “largely disproven.”

In 1988, in late stages of the Iran/Iraq war, a battle began in the area of Halabja on the border between the two countries during which the city was gassed by what the Reagan administration said was an Iranian attack. Fourteen years later, the second Bush administration rewrote history, claiming the Halabja attack was launched by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces, and that “he gassed his own people.” Members of Congress and journalists alike bought imto the claim without scrutiny.

On April 4, a gas attack on the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun took place. Just 63 hours later, without permission from Congress and without waiting for full scrutiny of evidence, the Trump administration launched a retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian airfield. Republicans, Democrats and journalists engaged in a rush to judgment, supporting the action without evidence—with one exception in the House. Iraq war veteran and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard refused to jump on board Trump’s force-as-a-first-resort bandwagon until the evidence was submitted to the public and Congress. Her fellow Democrats denounced her, with Howard Dean calling on her constituents to defeat her for reelection. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked her repeatedly if she “believed” Assad was responsible. Gabbard, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees who is thus familiar with the information supplied to Congress, said it was not a matter of faith or belief, but of hard evidence. She also noted that a lot of people had rushed to judgment about WMDs in Iraq.

Sen. Rand Paul: “This is dangerous. As Madison wrote, the Constitution supposes what history demonstrates, that the executive is the branch most interested in war and most prone to it. The Constitution therefore, with studied care, vested that power in the legislature.”