WATERLOO, Ontario — Donald Trump may be one of Barack Obama’s biggest critics, but the president may want to thank his predecessor for an unprecedented expansion of authority when it comes to making military decisions in office.
A new study conducted at the University of Waterloo found that Obama as well as former president George W. Bush paved the way for Trump to have more freedom to engage in militarized affairs.
“Right now, Donald Trump has an enormous amount of power to launch military action, perhaps more than any president since the Vietnam War,” says study author Aaron Ettinger, an assistant professor of political science, in a news release. “Trump’s predecessors left a legacy of military adventurism that suits his aggressive style.”
Ettinger reviewed government documentation and post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy texts and found that both Bush and Obama disregarded policy, both U.S. and international, in some situations. This “erosion of legal and institutional constraints” occurred as the two presidents sought out ways to dance around laws or rules of thumb while still maintaining a high level of diplomacy with other nations and international policies.
His research also suggests that President Trump acquired a greater ability to launch a military effort without consulting Congress.
While both presidents often reached out to Congress for authorization when it came to war, Obama in particular was more likely to engage in military action without turning to senators and representatives for discussion. Ettinger says that by the end of Obama’s presidency, U.S. military forces were combat-ready all through North Africa, East Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.
“Obama scrupulously resisted large or ground-based military actions, but his willingness to move forward militarily without Congressional agreement represents a remarkable expansion of executive authority,” says Ettinger.
The study was published as Trump faced a significant uptick in military activity and threats in North Korea, and warnings of a long-distance missile that contained a miniature nuclear warhead. Most recently, Kim Jong Un threatened a “second Korean War” if the U.S. and South Korea continue with military exercises.
“Trump’s first six months as president have seen tensions rise on the Korean peninsula, ongoing depravity in Syria and Iraq, the devolution of relations with Russia, strains with China, and the alienation of NATO allies,” says Ettinger. “We will soon see how a president with no foreign affairs experience, an aggressive personality and a few restraints will respond to the current global climate.”
On Monday, Trump announced his intention to ramp up efforts against the Taliban in Afghanistan amid calls to pull troops from the war-torn nation, acknowledging that a “hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists, including ISIS and al Qaeda, would instantly fill.”
Ettinger’s research was published last month in the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal.