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The Perils of an Illegal Attack on Syria

Trump made [1] a revealing comment on Syria yesterday:

“We have a lot of options, militarily,” the president said after the Cabinet meeting. “And we’ll be letting you know pretty soon — probably after the fact [bold mine-DL].”

Not only will there be no debate or vote in Congress before the president orders an illegal attack on another government, but he probably won’t bother to inform the public until after it has already happened. You couldn’t ask for a more straightforward expression of contempt for constitutional government and the consent of the governed than this. The U.S. is once again about to commit acts of war against another state on the whim of one man, and he probably isn’t even going to explain the reason for that illegal action before he takes it.

There is a real chance that U.S. strikes on the Syrian government could provoke retaliation from Russia, Iran, and Syria. Depending on how extensive the attack is, there is a decent chance that it will kill Iranian and Russian military personnel. That could potentially put the U.S. in a state of war with as many as three other states, one of which is a nuclear-armed major power. If one or more of those states chose to escalate against U.S. forces in Syria or elsewhere, there is no telling how costly this new conflict could become. Regardless, it is not up to the president to decide whether the U.S. goes to war against any of these states. I don’t think one has to be a strict constructionist or a stickler for Congress’ role in matters of war to grasp that the president has no authority to initiate hostilities against one or more foreign governments in response to an attack that took place inside another country that posed no threat to the U.S. or its allies.

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10 Comments To "The Perils of an Illegal Attack on Syria"

#1 Comment By Christian Chuba On April 10, 2018 @ 9:35 am

It’s hopeless.

I have read/heard so many comments that basically say … ‘we have to do something, of course it happened, I saw the video’. Oh, and these are the journalists and CIA guests on FOX. The public at large is even more impressionable.

#2 Comment By John Gruskos On April 10, 2018 @ 11:24 am

This is so frustrating.

The American right supported Dave Brat and Donald Trump precisely because we *didn’t* want a war in Syria.

We delivered the two greatest electoral upsets in American history, but apparently these elections have had absolutely no influence on US foreign policy whatsoever.

Policy is proceeding exactly as if Eric Cantor was Speaker of the House and Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio was President.

#3 Comment By rayray On April 10, 2018 @ 11:35 am

@John Gruskos
I’m sure you’ve already noted this, but Trump made it clear on the campaign trail that he intended to enthusiastically continue our involvement in Syria. True, he also said the opposite. He often said both in the same paragraph, occasionally even in the same sentence. My conclusion was that he was fundamentally ignorant, had no idea what he was really talking about, and thus felt liberated to say anything that would get a cheer and/or make him seem tough.

During the campaign I found it odd when people would comment that they “agreed” with Trump’s foreign policy positions. What positions? Which ones? Which speech/what time of day specifically were they in agreement?

#4 Comment By b. On April 10, 2018 @ 11:55 am

“There is a real chance that U.S. strikes on the Syrian government could provoke retaliation from Russia, Iran, and Syria.”

Feature, not bug, for the profiteers and careerists.

As a corollary, if Assad actually provided the pretext, and Putin was not able to stop him, we would have a menage a trois with two idiots and one man out of his depth. It is stunning to consider that the “responsibility to prevent” more deaths, more intervention and “prevemption” is apparently resting with the governments of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

#5 Comment By b. On April 10, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

“You couldn’t ask for a more straightforward expression of contempt for constitutional government and the consent of the governed than this.”

Actually, I am not sure that a Congressional vote authorizing an act of aggression illegal under the UN Charter and, per Constitution and ratification, US law. We would just trade contempt for a Congress of cowards for a Congress of war criminals and contempt for international law and institutions.

Between the near-unanimous AUMF, the opportunistic (and illegal) Iraq war resolution, and an upcoming Congressional act to make us a nation of war criminals once more, it would be convenient to let Trump take the responsibility. But that is what Congress – and The People – have done for a long time.

Given a choice of criminal acts, maybe it is time for Congress to go on the record again, and we should hope that the will of “The People” is polled and recorded as overwhelmingly opposed. It would be amazing, to be saved by that kind of grace.

#6 Comment By b. On April 10, 2018 @ 12:20 pm

“There is a real chance that U.S. strikes on the Syrian government could provoke retaliation from Russia, Iran, and Syria.”

“Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned [..] that the United States would regret pulling out of the nuclear deal, and that Tehran’s response would be stronger than anticipated.”

This statement also raises questions of competence. Iran has much to gain by demonstrating restraint in the face of US impunity and cracks in the “alliance” of US proxies. Maybe Rouhani has to appease hardliners in Iran, at the risk of providing “the West” more pretext, or maybe he is just another fool that Russia is forced to depend on.

Or maybe Iran and Russia, and possibly China, have engaged in sustained discussions regarding their options with respect to US demolition of that “international order” in Syria, North Korea and ultimately Iran, and this Iranian statement is backed up by bilateral or trilateral agreement.

The US set a precedent by enabling the UK to become and continue to be a “lend-lease” second hand nuclear power. Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine did the opposite by relinquishing their inherited Soviet nukes.

The US campaign – crusade – to break JCOPA is about ICBMs and A2/AD, not nukes. This is even true for North Korea. IIRC Pakistan decided not to pursue ICBMs, and we see fit – for reasons unknown – to accept India’s ICBMs and their outright rejection of the NPT.

If the US is pushing missile disarmament at gunpoint under the pretext of nuclear “non-proliferation” at gunpoint to the point where North Korea’s possession of both looks like insufficient deterrent, it would definitely be a possibility for Iran to acquire working nukes from – or laundered through – North Korea (or even Pakistan). This sounds, and is, ludicrous today, but then, three years ago our “today” would have sounded ludicrous as well.

On the other hand, Russia and China will at some point have to make the decision whether they prefer to regionally and opportunistically seek short-term payoffs and temporary gains resulting from the systematic demolition of the international order as pushed aggressively by the US, or whether they can accept to not become “exceptional” and exceptionally rogue nations in their own right. UN Resolution 377 “Uniting for Peace”, its history and precedent make it the “nuclear option” of international law, with the potential to eviscerate the primacy of the permanent UN Security Council members and their veto. It might well spell the end of the UN, and the end of the international order, laying bare that the US is not willing to be subject to the rule of law, or it might cause a race to the bottom of equality in sovereignty in which neither the US nor Russia nor China can ignore the UN as a restraint on their territorial ambitions.

#7 Comment By Elizabeth Burton On April 10, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

Congress allegedly could stop any of this if it chose to. It doesn’t choose to. So, it’s not just the executive office ignoring the Constitution. The entire federal government is colluding to undermine it and turn the country into a plutocratic oligarchy where support of the MIC is a primary agenda item.

#8 Comment By sglover On April 10, 2018 @ 5:52 pm

@ rayray: Spot on.

Every Trump supporter gets to plead his own Trump. Weirdly, more and more of them (at least among the subset that shows up at places like this) complain about being let down, betrayed, by…. their own projections of Trump. The man’s a living breathing experiment in consensual hallucination — the Trump Age is almost like living in a William Gibson novel.

#9 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On April 10, 2018 @ 6:27 pm

Remember the Maine!
Gulf of Tonkin.
Saddam’s WMD.

And now this, just when Saddam is about to occupy the area and Trump talks about withdrawing. Color me skeptical.

#10 Comment By slappy On April 11, 2018 @ 1:55 am

Right, Trump should step aside, handing Congress the issue, he should pull out the Constitution at the Podium and read to the world, Congress is responsible if Congress wants war the vote on it then the President can take under advisement with military. without Congress the media and democrats after screaming for war will turn on Trump when firing starts, period.