Trump’s Illegal Attack on Syria Has Started

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The illegal attack on Syria that the Trump administration has been threatening for the last week has started:

President Trump ordered a military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, joining allies Britain and France in launching missile strikes in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians.

The U.S. and its allies have committed a flagrant violation of international law, and Trump has trampled on the Constitution once again. This attack probably won’t succeed on its own terms, and it risks a larger conflagration. It remains to be seen how large and prolonged the latest intervention turns out to be, but whatever happens next it was wholly unnecessary for US security, a breach of the U.N. Charter, and completely illegal according to US law. If Congress does nothing to challenge the president’s illegal attack, they will be accepting own irrelevance in matters of war from now on.

Trump’s statement announcing the attack contained a lot of the usual moralizing rhetoric we have come to expect from presidents when they start unnecessary military interventions. At one point, he even refers to the “righteous power” of the US and its allies without appreciating how ridiculous and pompous this sounds to everyone in the region and most nations around the world. Incredibly, he addressed Syria’s patrons and asked, “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?” Trump should know the answer, since he just hosted one of the chief architects of the war on Yemen that the US has backed to the hilt for the last three years. Britain welcomed the Saudi crown prince earlier on, and France just hosted him in the last few days. All three have been arming and supporting the Saudis and their allies in Yemen no matter how many atrocities they commit. There may be governments that have the moral authority to lecture Syria and its allies over their atrocious conduct, but the Trump administration and our British and French allies aren’t among them.

The Saudis and their allies have used the weapons sold to them by the US and other Western governments to slaughter innocent Yemeni civilians by the thousands, including cluster munitions that almost every nation on earth has outlawed. Cluster munitions are inherently indiscriminate and insidious weapons that threaten civilians long after the conflict has ended. Our military has refueled the jets that they use to blow up crowds of refugees, wedding processions, funerals, and schools. The coalition blockade has created record-setting famine and cholera crises that put millions of lives in jeopardy, and the US continues to support the war anyway. Indeed, US support for their war effort has only increased since Trump took office.

The absurdity of Trump of all people lecturing other states about enabling war crimes is obvious. The US could take a far more meaningful and effective stand against violations of international law by cutting off all support to governments that commit war crimes against civilians in Yemen, but that is the last thing this administration is going to do. Trump says that nations can be judged by “the friends that they keep,” so what does it say about the US that Trump has embraced the governments wrecking and starving Yemen as some of his closest friends?

Trump went to say, “No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.” If he actually believed that, he would halt all military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition tomorrow, but instead he treats the Saudi royals as if they can do no wrong. The problem here is not just that US foreign policy is blatantly hypocritical, but also that the US is enabling egregious violations of international law and backing a coalition blockade that is causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, our government poses as some sort of scourge of despots while it arms some of the world’s worst and most repressive governments to the teeth. Millions of lives in Yemen are threatened by the outrageous, famine-causing policies of U.S.-backed governments and tens of thousands have already perished because of these policies, but as far as the Trump administration and many others in Washington are concerned those millions of people simply don’t count.

Attacking the Syrian government doesn’t make anyone safer, and it is completely detached from any broader strategy for bringing the conflict in Syria to an end. The best-case scenario is that the punitive strikes inflict some damage on the Syrian government without doing too much to prolong the civil war, and the worst case is that it needlessly triggers a major war between the US and Syria’s patrons. There is no outcome that justifies the risks and lawbreaking that this attack involves.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.