Over the past couple of weeks I’ve written multiple times about the illegality of the Obama administration’s plan to bomb Syria. But the lack of legal legitimacy in what Obama is preparing to do should be reiterated.
Even if Congress grants Obama authorization to strike Syria, actually carrying out the act will be illegal under international law. It will be a war crime, in fact, as there has been no approval from United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
“As international support for Obama’s decision to attack Syria has collapsed, along with the credibility of government claims, the administration has fallen back on a standard pretext for war crimes when all else fails: the credibility of the threats of the self-designated policeman of the world,” Noam Chomsky told the Huffington Post.
“[T]hat aggression without UN authorization would be a war crime, a very serious one, is quite clear, despite tortured efforts to invoke other crimes as precedents,” he added.
And here is an Op-Ed in yesterday’s New York Times by Yale law professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, making the case against waging war without UNSC approval:
It is no surprise that both liberal interventionists and neoconservative realists are advocating American military intervention, even if it is illegal. As President Obama said on Saturday, “If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules?”
But this question ignores the obvious: If the United States begins an attack without Security Council authorization, it will flout the most fundamental international rule of all — the prohibition on the use of military force, for anything but self-defense, in the absence of Security Council approval. This rule may be even more important to the world’s security — and America’s — than the ban on the use of chemical weapons.
One can quibble with the effectiveness of the UN in general, or with the comparative moral implications of Assad’s act versus Obama’s, but it remains an undeniable fact that Obama is planning to commit a war crime.
Quibbling still, one might say “who cares?” War crimes are committed all the time by the U.S. and other governments around the world, right? Indeed they are: in similar cases, both Clinton (Kosovo) and Bush (Iraq) committed clear cut war crimes with total impunity. But while U.S. foreign policy is rotten and hypocritical to its core, the fact that Washington repeatedly claims to enforce international law by violating it should be wholly unacceptable to Americans and to the world.