Originally appeared at The American Conservative.
A new AP report calls attention to the illegality of the U.S. military mission in Syria:
President Donald Trump has approved an expanded military mission to secure an expanse of oil fields across eastern Syria, raising a number of difficult legal questions about whether US troops can launch strikes against Syrian, Russian or other forces if they threaten the oil, US officials said.
The legal questions aren’t really that difficult, but the answers are embarrassing for the US The US has no right to have a military presence in that country. There is no Congressional authorization for a mission inside Syria, and there never has been. There is no international mandate for a foreign military mission in Syria. There is absolutely no legal justification for US troops to be operating there, and they certainly don’t have the authority to launch attacks against Syrian or Russian forces. The oil belongs to the Syrian government, and our forces are there without the Syrian government’s permission. Despite the illegality of their presence and their current mission, these troops are stuck in eastern Syria for the foreseeable future because the president’s advisers thought it would be clever to trick him into supporting an ongoing military presence for the sake of stealing another country’s property. Trump and his hawkish advisers own this debacle equally, and they are all responsible when it goes sideways.
Obviously, these troops won’t be leaving Syria or coming back to the US:
Trump’s order also slams the door on any suggestion that the bulk of the more than 1,200 US troops that have been in Syria will be coming home any time soon, as he has repeatedly promised.
The phony withdrawal from Syria is an important reminder that Trump’s foreign policy needs to be judged by what he does and not by what he says. The president says again and again that he is bringing troops home and that he wants to bring endless wars to an end, but in practice he puts US troops in absurd situations and gives them impossible and illegal missions to perform and never ends any of the wars he inherited. Keeping US troops indefinitely for any reason is a bad idea, but the reason that Trump has come up with to rationalize their continued presence is the worst of all.
Defining the US mission in Syria in terms of seizing Syrian oil is wrong in every respect, and it invites attacks on the troops that have been sent on this cockamamie errand:
Occupying Syria with the explicit imperial goal of taking its oil is like a burglar up to no good in someone else’s house—when confrontation happens it’s awfully hard to make a compelling case that it’s not our fault.
— Max Abrahms (@MaxAbrahms) November 6, 2019
The US military has been operating illegally in Syria for the last five years, but this latest and most absurd mission may finally force Congress to act. Congress should refuse to fund a mission that is dedicated to the theft of another country’s property. They should have been resisting illegal warfare in Syria all along, but they need to draw the line here to make clear that they don’t tolerate using the military to indulge the president’s desire for plunder.
Our government’s Syria policy over the last seven years is a good example of what happens when Congress completely fails in its constitutional responsibilities and in its duty to oversee the executive branch’s activities. More often than not, members of Congress have been egging the executive on to take ever more reckless and illegal actions in Syria instead of seeking to rein in the folly of taking sides in the war there. That has allowed the executive branch to mire the US in a seemingly never-ending role in Syria with justifications that change from year to year, and that has eventually led us to the current situation in which US troops are being put at risk to guard irrelevant oil fields.
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.