WASHINGTON — The top Democrat in the Senate said Tuesday that his caucus is worried President Trump's actions in Syria could lead to another open-ended major military fight for U.S. troops in the region and that "any further action should come to Congress" for approval.
"There should be a defined strategy," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of Trump's decision to attack an airfield in the war-torn Middle Eastern country. "And I, for one, am really, really wary and worried about getting committed to another land war, and making the same mistake that we did in Iraq.
"The view of most, if not all, in my caucus is very, very dubious of large-scale military action we saw in Iraq, and dubious of military action generally,"
The comments came the same day White House officials defended the decision to launch 59 missiles into the country on April 6 in retaliation for a sarin gas attack on civilians carried out days earlier by military forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
Administration officials said the military action was a one-off response to war crimes, but also said they reserve the right for similar intervention in the future if Assad continues to ignore international law.
The move renewed conversation on Capitol Hill about the role of Congress in declaring war and the extent of presidential authorities under existing use of force agreements. Most conservatives in Congress said Trump was well within his executive powers to launch the limited attack, but a number of Democrats have raised concerns about lawmakers abdicating their oversight role in military matters.
Schumer called Trump’s missile strike "appropriate" given the "horrible things (Assad) has done with chemical weapons." Congressional leaders were given advance warning of the attack.
But, Schumer warned, future actions that could escalate the fight likely would not receive the same backing from his fellow Democrats.
"I think Congress would be opposed to that," he said. "I think he'd need the Congress's OK to go ahead and do it."
Schumer’s comments came during a conference call with reporters on U.S. trade policy with China.
On Friday, Trump sent a letter to Congress justifying the missile strikes, labeling them "in the vital national security and foreign policy interests of the United States." He also said as commander in chief he will "take additional action, as necessary and appropriate, to further (the country’s) important national interests."
The United States has at least 500 troops within Syrian borders, but their missions are focused on combatting Islamic State group terrorists and advising friendly regional forces, not combatting the Assad regime.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.