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The Legal ‘Arguments’ for Attacking Syria Are Preposterous

The “arguments” being put forward by U.S. officials and others to justify an attack on Syria are as ludicrous as you would expect [1]:

At the House hearing, Democrats grilled Mattis on the wisdom and legality of Trump ordering an attack on Syria without explicit authorization from Congress. Mattis argued it would be justified as an act of self-defense, with 2,000 U.S. ground troops in Syria [bold mine-DL]; he insisted he could not talk about military plans because an attack “is not yet in the offing.”

Mattis’ claim is absurd, and I said as much yesterday:

The U.S. military presence in Syria is already illegal in a couple ways. The Syrian government has never given the U.S. permission to operate on its territory, and Congress has never authorized any mission inside Syria. Our forces have no international mandate to be there, and they certainly don’t have a mandate to fight the Syrian government. Obama had no legal authority to expand the war on ISIS into Syria, and so he had no authority to send U.S. forces into Syria as part of that war. Even if the presence of U.S. forces in Syria had been authorized by Congress, it would still be in violation of international law. Even if the war on ISIS had been authorized, it would give the U.S. no right to initiate hostilities against the Syrian government.

The fact that the U.S. has an illegal military presence in Syria obviously doesn’t give our government license to attack the Syrian government or its allies, and it just drives home that all U.S. military operations inside Syria are illegal. The U.S. cannot use its other illegal behavior to justify a new attack, and the fact that Mattis is reduced to making this claim shows that there is no credible case to be made that attacking the Syrian government is legal.

Noted torture enabler John Yoo has never seen an illegal government action he couldn’t rationalize, so of course he thinks [4] attacking the Syrian government is fine:

“I think that statutory authorization comes from the [authorization for use of military force] passed after 9/11, which allows the use of force with regard to any group connected to the 9/11 attacks, which includes ISIS (which is an offshoot of al Qaida). Because ISIS is operating in Syria, the U.S. can use force in Syria,” Yoo said in an email.

Perhaps this is where Paul Ryan [5] gets his nonsensical belief that the 2001 AUMF covers an attack on the Syrian government. It shouldn’t have to be said, but Yoo is absolutely wrong. The 2001 AUMF cannot possibly apply to the Syrian government, which is not in league with Al Qaeda or any other jihadist groups. If you don’t like Yoo’s first garbage opinion, he has another:

An unrepealed 2002 war authorization allowing for the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein also can justify an attack on Assad, Yoo said, because that legislation “allows the use of force to stabilize Iraq, which the use of force against Assad could advance.”

This is such a stupid and dishonest misreading of the 2002 AUMF that it shouldn’t need to be refuted. To be clear, an authorization for using force against the old Iraqi government cannot be used to justify attacks on a different government in a different country over 15 years later. Of course, Yoo doesn’t think there is any need to bother with these torturous misinterpretations because he believes the president has inherent power to start wars anywhere whenever he wants:

“But my constitutional view is that the president does not need these statutory authorizations because as commander-in-chief Trump can deploy the armed forces on his own…”

This is what is at stake in the debate over attacking Syria. If you don’t think attacking the Syrian government is illegal, you are reduced to buying into the anti-constitutional nonsense of John Yoo and others like him. If you think that the president’s authority is limited by the Constitution and the power to decide when and where to go to war rests solely with Congress, you have to oppose an attack on the Syrian government as the illegal overreach that it is.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "The Legal ‘Arguments’ for Attacking Syria Are Preposterous"

#1 Comment By Someone in the crowd On April 13, 2018 @ 1:47 pm

If we can believe, say, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who says the US government has been funding terrorist groups in Syria; and if we can believe an article on these very pages by Gareth Porter (“How America Armed Terrorist Groups in Syria”) — then the 2001 AUMF definitely gives the U.S. the legal right to attack the U.S. As for attacking the Syrian government or Russia — not so much.

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 13, 2018 @ 3:47 pm

“Someone in the crowd” mentions Syria remarks by Congesswoman Tulsi Gabbard (Dem., Hawaii). Here are other comments by Gabbard at yesterday’s House Committee testimony of Secretary by Defense Mattis:

#3 Comment By Steve On April 13, 2018 @ 5:26 pm

Am I correct in thinking the Constitution declares the president to be commander in chief to assert civilian control over the military and not to confer all war-making power? What does Woo think is the reason Congress is given the sole power to declare war?

#4 Comment By jk On April 13, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

From Nassim Taleb:

“A serious problem in the way IYIs (Intellectuals Yet Idiots) frame Syria. They talk about Assad w/o comparing him to the rebels -or as if the rebels were Mother Theresa. They also fail to think in dynamics (what happens after?)”


How many times has Russia or Syria attacked the US?

Compare with how many times has Saudi Arabia attacked the US or its interests?

I’ll take Assad protecting HIS country and SOME religious minorities such as Christians versus making half-baked heroes and dole out US taxpayer dollars and blood for jihadists that will eventually turn on the US again (such as the erstwhile Soviet foe Taliban).

Would like to see KSA or Israel spill some blood and treasure for the US and world for once instead of the other way around.

#5 Comment By b. On April 13, 2018 @ 10:10 pm

Trump has had his “decider” moment.

Is there anybody in Congress that has the guts to push for impeachment over this?

Given that we now have the Speaker of the House push The Six Degrees of Separation from the 9/11 attackers as a pretext for attacking a government that, among other parties, fights terrorists we financed, and terrorists that Saudi Arabia financed, Ryan should be censured as well.

Instead, non-entities like Bolton and Yoo will shape our so-called “discourse” again. It is pathetic.

#6 Comment By b. On April 13, 2018 @ 10:41 pm

Mattis’ argument that US military personnel following illegal orders have to be “protected” will eventually be followed by demands that their death has to be avenged so as not be “in vain”. The Nuremberg principles were designed to cut the BS in the endlessly self-reinforcing justifications and pretexts, and reach to the original sin of aggression.

#7 Comment By Egypt Steve On April 15, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

I suppose it would stabilize Iraq if we could conquer the world and impose total obedience on the global population with a vast army of invincible hunter-killer robots.

#8 Comment By bkmiller On April 16, 2018 @ 4:07 pm

Egypt Steve: Shhhhhh. Don’t give the sociopathic lizards in charge ideas.

Although this IS their game plan, isn’t it? “Total Spectrum Dominance”