Home/Daniel Larison/Trump’s Absurd Defense of the Illegal War in Syria

Trump’s Absurd Defense of the Illegal War in Syria

Two Air Force F-22 Raptors fly over Syria, Feb. 2, 2018, while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott

The Trump administration confirms that it has nothing but contempt for the Constitution and international law:

The Trump administration has decided that it needs no new legal authority from Congress to indefinitely keep American military forces deployed in Syria and Iraq, even in territory that has been cleared of Islamic State fighters, according to Pentagon and State Department officials.

It is not new for a president to ignore the law in matters of war, but this is an especially egregious example of it. Not only is there no authorization for U.S. forces to be in Syria for any reason, but our military presence there has absolutely no legal justification of any kind. There is no U.N. resolution that authorizes U.S. forces to be there, the local government expressly opposes our military presence on its territory, and there is no remotely plausible self-defense justification for having U.S. military personnel in Syria. The war on ISIS was itself unnecessary, but now that the threat from ISIS is even smaller than it was there is no credible case that the U.S. is in Syria to defend itself or anyone else. The U.S. is certainly not coming to the defense of a treaty ally. On the contrary, U.S. military involvement in Syria is putting our forces on a possible collision course with the armed forces of a treaty ally. Besides being a terrible, ill-conceived policy, an indefinite military intervention in Syria is undeniably illegal, and the administration’s claims to the contrary are nonsense.

As ridiculous as the Trump administration’s disregard for the law is, Obama bears more than a little responsibility for this absurd situation. It was Obama who illegally expanded the war on ISIS into Syria, and he was the one who first ordered U.S. forces into Syria. He did all this with no authorization from or debate in Congress, and he presided just as illegally over more than two years of war. The Obama administration’s legal defense that the 2001 AUMF authorized its actions in Syria was a bad joke, but unfortunately very few seriously contested that claim and so the illegal intervention was allowed to continue. Trump inherited Obama’s illegal war in Syria, and has chosen to continue it indefinitely. It is now up to Congress and the public to rein in this latest executive overreach. If Trump is allowed to get away with perpetuating an illegal war without end, the last remnants of the constitutional limits on presidential warmaking will be destroyed.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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