It's a "close call" whether President Donald Trump's call for Tomahawk missile strikes on a Syrian airfield last week were in the vital national security interest of the United States, Sen. Angus King said Monday.
"If he is narrowly construing it as the dealing with the issue of chemical weapons, we're a member of the international agreement on chemical weapons, not using them for over 100 years," the Maine Independent told CNN's "New Day" program. "I think he can make a legal case. The question is what happens next, and are we talking about a broader engagement, in which case the president doesn't have the authority."
Congress has avoided responsibility for responding to Syria over the past three years, said King, and if further action is to come, that's when lawmakers will come into play.
Meanwhile, despite damate to several jets and hangers from U.S. efforts, the Syrians launched more strikes from Shayrat air base, against the same city that had been attacked with chemical weapons just days before, King noted.
"Let's see what they do with chemical weapons," said King. "If they launch another chemical weapons attack, then it was ineffective and didn't send the proper message."
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been attacking his people for the past five years, King continued, and while the chemical weapons are a violation of international law, "they're not necessarily the worst of what they're doing."
"That is a problem with Syria," said King. "Syria is a complicated situation. A civil war. You now have the Russians and Iranians involved. It is a sectarian war. It is very, very complicated."
The "disarray" in the Trump administration shows there is "no clear way forward," the senator said, but he does agree that the Islamic State cannot be handled until "you get rid of Assad."
And that will not happen without working with Russia, King believes.
"They are the people with the influence over Assad," said King. "You know, I'm not sure whether this strike was a strong reaction to chemical weapons, but strategically, I'm not sure it really will accomplish the goal of furthering the downfall of Assad, which can allow us to turn attention to ISIS."
King said he also does not understand what the U.S. policy is on Syria.
"It was hard to understand what the Obama administration policy was," said King. "This is a complex situation. If there is going to be further involvement — by the way, I think it would be a mistake."
Currently, there are 1,200 groups opposing Assad, and all vying for power, "all the way from moderates to Al Nusra ... if we try to go in with troops, some people have advocated that, I think that is a huge mistake. ISIS wants to bog us down in a land war, if you will, in Syria."
King said he knows Trump "likes to be unpredictable," but with Syria, he needs to come to Congress and he has to have a strategy.
"It is time for us to step up, not just sit on the sidelines and criticize, but say what is the U.S. policy and [whether] the president has our authority," said King.
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