NBC News reports on the Trump administration’s forever war in Syria:
The Trump administration is developing a new strategy for the war in Syria that would focus more heavily on pushing Iran’s military and its proxy forces out of the country, according to five people familiar with the plan.
The new strategy would not involve the U.S. military directly targeting and killing Iranian soldiers or Iran’s proxies, however, since that would violate the current U.S. authorization for using force in Syria. The U.S. military does have the right of self-defense under the authorization, and could strike the Iranian military if it felt threatened.
The U.S. military has no authorization to be operating in Syria for any reason, so it is a bit odd for them to be saying that they are limited in what they can target while they are engaged in illegal warfare in a country they are not supposed to be in. The 2001 AUMF does not apply to the war on ISIS, and the fact that two administrations have used it to justify an unauthorized war that has absolutely nothing to do with the original purpose of the resolution shows how little respect for legal limits the executive has. Congress never authorized targeting Iranian forces, but it also never authorized any military operations in Syria for any purpose, and the U.S. military presence in Syria is a blatant violation of Syrian sovereignty every day that it continues.
Expelling Iranian forces from Syria is a questionable goal for the U.S. For starters, their military presence in Syria poses no threat to the U.S. or our treaty allies. Besides that, their forces are there at the request of the Syrian government, and it isn’t up to our government to decide whether they should stay. Imagine if a U.S. adversary put troops in the territory of an American ally without that government’s permission and then announced that they wouldn’t be leaving until we evacuated all American forces from that country. Would that ridiculous attempt at blackmail work? Of course not. Our government would say that their forces were in the country illegally and that ours weren’t going anywhere, and then we would demand that they leave immediately. It takes a remarkable degree of arrogance even for a hawkish administration to believe that it can dictate to other states which of its allies are allowed to have a military presence in their country. The longer that our forces stay in Syria, the more likely it is that there will be a clash with Iranian or other pro-regime forces that leads to a larger conflict. U.S. officials have the same concern:
U.S. defense officials worry the increased focus on Iran and the presence of both militaries in Syria could pull the U.S. military closer into conflict.
In addition to being unnecessary for U.S. security and potential trigger for a new war, trying to drive Iranian forces out isn’t going to work. The report describes the policy:
The plan would emphasize political and diplomatic efforts to force Iran out of Syria by squeezing it financially. It would withhold reconstruction aid from areas where Iranian and Russian forces are present, according to three people familiar with the plan. The U.S. would also impose sanctions on Russian and Iranian companies working on reconstruction in Syria.
Withholding reconstruction funding isn’t going to force Iran to do anything, but it will deprive Syrian civilians of much-needed aid. Piling more sanctions on Iranian companies when the U.S. is already going overboard in its efforts to strangle the Iranian economy will just have the effect of punishing Syrians who might benefit from reconstruction investments. These measures will annoy the Iranian government, but it isn’t going to force them to walk away from their only ally in the region. The administration’s goal is, as usual, every bit as unrealistic as it is unrelated to U.S. interests.