Secretary Mattis isn’t ruling out U.S. military action against the Syrian government:

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the United States is not ruling out military action against Syria after President Donald Trump tweeted there would be a “big price to pay” for what he called the “mindless chemical attack” Saturday.

Mattis’ statement could just be the usual boilerplate rhetoric, but somehow I doubt it. Trump ordered an illegal attack in response to a similar episode a year ago, and Mattis evidently had no problem with implementing that order. If Trump wants to launch another illegal attack, we should assume that Mattis won’t get in the way of that. Even though attacking the Syrian government would still be completely illegal, there doesn’t appear to be anyone inside the administration that is the least bit concerned about this.

The prospect of yet another illegal U.S. attack on another government is disturbing for several reasons. First, it makes a mockery of our constitutional system of government and blatantly violates the U.N. Charter. The U.S. no longer respects domestic or international constraints on the use of force, and most of our political leaders have long since surrendered to the idea that the president can initiate hostilities against anyone at any time for virtually any reason. Each new illegal use of force builds on the last one and becomes the normal practice. That’s a disaster for the cause of peace and restraint, and it needs to be opposed vigorously.

If the U.S. attacks the Syrian government again, it will once again be arrogating to itself the right to punish other states for alleged crimes committed inside their own territory. There is no international consensus or authorization for such action, nor is there likely to be any. A U.S. attack would be another example of our government running roughshod over the so-called “rules-based order.”

Unlike the attack last year, there is a greater chance this time that Russian and Iranian forces will retaliate against U.S. or U.S.-backed forces. The potential for escalation is greater than it was in the past, and that threatens to drag the U.S. into a much bigger war. The U.S. has no vital interests at stake in Syria that merit taking such a huge risk, and there are no benefits to the U.S. from doing this. Our government is once again contemplating committing acts of war against a state that hasn’t attacked us and doesn’t threaten us or our allies. That makes no sense, and we will come to regret it.