We’re Bombing Syria, And There’s A Problem With Our Bombing Of Syria

Let me say up front that I don’t have a problem with bombing ISIS, I don’t have a problem with bombing ISIS in Syria and I don’t even have a problem with putting in ground troops to wipe them out – which is the only real way to actually win this war Barack Obama is committing us to – so long as we’re not going to occupy the place for years afterward and attempt to rebuild a part of the world which is worth neither our blood nor our treasure to improve.

What I have a problem with is going in without any legal justification of any kind. Which is what we are doing. Josh Rogin’s piece in the Daily Beast today ought to be required reading…

The White House has an answer for critics who want to know how the Obama administration can justify striking ISIS inside Syria under international law: If and when we actually do it, we will come up with a legal justification then.

The Obama administration has explained at length why it believes it has the domestic legal justification for using airstrikes in Syria; they have claimed they don’t need Congressional authorization because the 2001 authorization for the use of military force against the perpetrators of 9/11 and the 2002 authorization to take down Saddam Hussein applies to the ISIS war. The New York Times called the explanations “perplexing” and insufficient. (After all, al Qaeda and ISIS have sporadically fought with one another, and the Saddam regime is long gone.)

But the administration has said almost nothing about why airstrikes in Syria would not be a direct violation of the international law of armed conflict and the United Nations charter, as both the Syrians and their Russian allies have claimed.

“Whenever the United States uses force in foreign territories, international legal principles, including respect for sovereignty and the law of armed conflict, impose important constraints on the ability of the United States to act unilaterally—and on the way in which the United States can use force,” National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden told The Daily Beast. “With respect to international law, the specific basis will depend on the particular facts and circumstances related to any specific military actions, but we believe that we will have a basis for taking action.”

 

There was even less of an attempt to justify last night’s bombing campaign than there was to justify our war against Qaddafi in Libya, and that was an illegal war not only because Obama never got Congressional approval under the War Powers Act but he started a war with a regime with whom the United States had normalized relations with neither a Congressional declaration of war, authorization of military force nor even so much as a casus belli.

Now we’re attacking ISIS in Syria – which, again, I have no problem with and am perfectly satisfied with doing and only demand that we visit maximum violence and destruction upon them – without any thought toward satisfying the legal and diplomatic necessities surrounding such an action.

We managed to get Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE to go with us on this project. Which is not nothing, but the Turks are not on board, the French are bombing ISIS on their own, the British are out, none of the other Europeans are helping and the Russians and Syrians are screaming.

What happens if the Syrians decide to start shooting at the fighter-bombers crossing into their airspace? That could well happen; our side is bombing territory the Assad regime doesn’t control, but it’s still Assad’s airspace and it’s being invaded without his compliance. And if a, say, Saudi plane gets shot down and Assad’s people get their hands on the pilot, what happens then?

Assad and the Saudis aren’t on good terms. The Saudis have been funding ISIS. So have the Qataris, who are also in this coalition. Think Assad will just forgive and forget? That seems unlikely; instead what’s probably more reasonable is to expect that what starts as an attack on ISIS becomes a free-for-all in which Sunni Arab regimes are conducting all-out war against the Alawite infidel Syrian rump state, and the Russians and Iranians decide to start trouble elsewhere.

None of this was necessary, by the way. We don’t need Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE to conduct an air war against ISIS. What would have been a lot more worthwhile would have been to make our peace with Assad and attempt to flip him to a U.S. ally. He’d do it, because he’s lost half his country and so long as ISIS is still around his very life is in danger – not to mention ISIS controls a big chunk of his oil reserves.

And making Assad a U.S. ally instead of an Iranian one – even if he stays friendly with Putin – allows us to greatly disadvantage both Hamas and Hizbollah, plus create a better reality for both the Kurds, who we need to recognize not only as our foremost ally in the Muslim part of the Middle East but as an independent nation as well, and the Christians in both Syria and Iraq.

None of that has been done, so now we’re bombing Assad’s enemies in Syria, which helps him, without even making common cause with him. Once we’re done clobbering ISIS, or this Khorasan Group which was supposedly going to commence a wave of terror attacks in the West, do we then come after Assad? And if we’re going to do that, why wouldn’t he fight us alongside his other enemies?

Where is our strategy for victory here? What’s our exit strategy? What are our metrics for success? What diplomatic and geopolitical goals are we pushing toward?

Worse, we’re doing this without putting together a rationale for it. Flipping Assad and having him solicit our help against ISIS would have been the smart way to go about this and prevent the necessity of the current diplomatic and legal mess, which will destroy our legitimacy on the international stage and prevent us from getting cooperation when somebody else decides to follow our lead for their own purposes. Putin, for example, or the Chinese.

But there’s a problem with making common cause with Assad, and the problem is political for Obama – because Obama said Assad must go, and what’s more Obama funneled weapons to Syrian rebels who might or might not have turned into ISIS – and at some point the role of the “consulate” and CIA annex in Benghazi in that transfer of weapons is going to be scrutinized. Those are uncomfortable questions, the political ramifications of which could be ugly for the president. And so he sidesteps them and just starts the bombing, without actually making a comprehensive case for doing so or creating an international rationale that is defensible as an answer for when Russia or China or some other aggressor decides to conquer a weaker neighbor because they feel like it.

What this ultimately comes to is that Obama is putting the short-term selfish political interest of being able to say he’s doing something about the ISIS threat, which, again, I have no problem with, ahead of the long-term national interest of insuring that to destroy ISIS is done in such a way that it increases the chances of peace in the region rather than causing us more problems rather than less.

And there will be unintended consequences of this, consequences that Obama’s successor in the White House will likely be less than enthused about suffering.

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