The actions leading toward US involvement in the civil war in Syria have been moving at a rapid pace. US officials, starting with President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, have been strong advocates of a limited attack on Syria to punish the Assad regime for an alleged chemical attack on its own citizens. It is unlikely, though, that a limited US military attack on the Syrian regime will result in a positive outcome. More likely, it will cause additional death and untold sorrow to Syrian civilians, make Syrian President Assad a hero in the region, increase the possibilities of a broader regional war, increase tensions between the US and Russia, further undermine respect for international law, and diminish rather than uphold US credibility in the region and beyond.
Below is a sketch of the sequence of events leading to where we are now; important choice points for the Congress with implications for the president and the American people; and some conclusions and recommendations.
Sequence of Events
- The president threatens to take military action if Syria uses chemical weapons. This was a deterrent threat — a threat meant to prevent the Syrian government from using chemical weapons.
- The deterrent threat apparently fails when chemical weapons are used in the Syrian civil war, although it is not known with certainty what party to the conflict actually used them.
- US leaders accuse the Syrian government of being the perpetrator of the chemical attack, which is believed by US leaders to have killed over 1,400 people, including over 400 children.
- The president indicates his intention to punish the Syrian government by initiating a missile attack on Syrian government forces. Other administration officials, including the secretary of state, publically support the president.
- Some commentators argue that a US attack is necessary to maintain US credibility in the world, despite the fact that in this case it will pit the US against Russia, with each country still maintaining some 1,000 nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert. That is, when the president makes a threat, even an ill-advised and dangerous one, it must be carried out so that US threats will be credible in the future.
- Other commentators point out that a US military attack on Syria would be illegal under international law since it is neither a military action made in self-defense nor one authorized by the United Nations Security Council. They also point out that US law requires Congress to authorize such an act of war.
- The president responds by ignoring concerns about the planned attack being a breach of international law, but says he will send the matter to Congress for consideration when Congress reconvenes, even though he believes that Congressional approval is not necessary for him to act as commander-in-chief.
- Congress will have to make a choice to approve or not approve the president’s plan to initiate a US military attack on Syria.
- Even if Congress approves US military action, a likely possibility, a US attack on Syria will not be legal under international law. Nor will such an attack be moral, in that it would likely kill large numbers of innocent Syrians and bring more suffering to the people of Syria. Nor would such an attack be prudent, with its potential to bog the US down in yet another war in the Middle East, at the expense of the people of Syria and US citizens at home.
- If Congress votes against approval of US military action, an unlikely possibility, the president will have to decide whether he bends to the will of Congress and backs down, or initiates the attack on his own authority with the potential to trigger a constitutional crisis in addition to all the other negative consequences of initiating an illegal war.
Conclusions and Recommendations
- The American people should speak out against US military action that could involve the US in yet another war with unknown consequences and of unknown duration.
- Congress should say No to authorization of the president’s proposed military action against Syria.
- The president should back down on his threat to attack Syria. Following through on every presidential threat with military action is a dangerous game for the US, as well as for the world, particularly on threats that violate and undermine international law.
- The US should work with the United Nations, and specifically with Russia, on finding a peaceful settlement of the civil war in Syria and, in general, on resolving the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East that are poisoning the well of international relations.
- Those responsible for the chemical attack in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution under international law. The US should also sign and ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court and become a member of the Court.
This article was originally published by Truthout.