Seth Harp went to the American base in eastern Syria and reported on what he found there:
I pressed him on the legality of the U.S. mission. The post-9/11 statute that has provided a legal basis for a host of interventions in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and North Africa is a stretch when it comes to Syria, because the Islamic State didn’t exist in 2001 and is technically enemies with Al Qaeda. The government will argue its applicability because the two groups are so alike in ideology, but, absent a new act of Congress, on what legal basis could the armed forces confront Iran? He said something about the enemy of your enemy being your friend, which was confusing. Isn’t Shiite Iran, a perpetual foe of Sunni jihadist groups, also fighting the Islamic State? He smiled and fell back on the point that America has several objectives in Syria, the primary one being the Islamic State’s defeat.
Many members of Congress have been willing to warp and bend the 2001 AUMF to say that it covers the war on ISIS, but that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. There is no way that a resolution passed seventeen years ago in response to 9/11 has anything to do with authorizing the use of force against a breakaway jihadist group a decade and a half later in Syria. The U.S. mission in Syria has been going on for four years, and it has been illegal and unauthorized the entire time. Expanding that illegal mission to include opposition to Iran’s presence in Syria makes no sense, but it is just the continuation of abusing the 2001 AUMF to mean whatever the current administration wants it to mean. Using the war on ISIS as a perpetual excuse for keeping a military presence in Syria allows the administration to sell an open-ended and illegal mission to the people here in the U.S., but the truth is that the U.S. had no business intervening in Syria in 2014 and it has even less reason to be involved there today. U.S. forces have no good reason to be in Syria, and their presence there is a flagrant violation of Syrian sovereignty, our Constitution, and international law.
Harp spoke to some unfortunate National Guardsmen who were stuck with a security detail at the Syrian base:
I asked if it felt weird being in Syria.
“I’ve kind of had this thing where I forget where I’m actually at,” Jones said. “It could be here or Kuwait or doing training in Texas or Mississippi, but it all looks the same and feels the same. Same buildings, same people, same vehicles, same equipment.”
“The only difference is the weather,” Jackson said.
“But sometimes,” Jones said, “I’ll wake up in the morning and be like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m in Syria.’ ”
That response of shock and surprise is what our politicians and policymakers should experience when they realize that the U.S. has been engaged in illegal warfare in Syria for the last four years. There was no debate about sending American soldiers to occupy parts of Syria in perpetuity, and there was certainly no vote authorizing their mission there. No American interests are served by putting these soldiers in harm’s way, and keeping these soldiers in Syria without end doesn’t make a single American or allied citizen safer. The Trump administration’s forever war in Syria is an outrageous and illegal abuse of power, and the new House majority would be well-advised to object to it and to do what they can to put a stop to it.