Phony Withdrawals and Illegal Wars

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:

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.

26 thoughts on “Phony Withdrawals and Illegal Wars”

  1. Good stuff…couple things.
    1) missions against ISIS are legal under the GWOT authorization. Yes, bogus authorization, yet it has survived legal challenges. Once the State Dpt names any group “linked to al Qaeda”, they can be attacked anywhere. This is why the Iranian revolutionary guard was linked to ISIS last year….revolutionary guard》ISIS 》al Qaeda 》911=Iran did 9/11
    2) “trick him into supporting”….reminds me of those dems who claimed they were tricked in voting for Iraq war 2 authorization….naw, doesn’t fly, even for the “stable genius”.
    3) “congress completely fails” maybe, there have been attempts to curb executive power and war from congress, but the electorate keeps sending GOP members to congress, making any antiwar vote start at -50% support. Not a failure of congress, the gop is wholly predictable, and war is not failure to them.
    4) time to change “inherited wars” or any other political problem….when you run, you volunteer to take responsibility for the problems that exist. Thought libertarians would get that…………;?)

    1. “Thought libertarians would get that…………;?”

      I did not know Daniel Larison was a libertarian. He might be, I just thought from reading some of his stuff that he is more on the conservative end of things.

      1. I think the OP missed the fact this was taken from another publication. Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky have both (I think) had the odd article republished here too, but it doesn’t make them libertarians. Despite its origins and makeup, it’s not called “”

      2. I dont know that he is either, the excuse of “inherited problems” is universal, and the point is about the vocabulary of it. I did use my snarky wink at the end to point that way.

        1. Point well taken. I think someone who inherits a war, and does nothing of significance to end it, is every bit as responsible for the death and destruction it causes as the person who started it.

      1. US militancy will link anyone to al Qaeda that it seems to desire to bomb. The nature of the war on terror authorization is that the president can attack anyone “he determines” is linked to al Qaeda, with any ordinance or troops he feels like. This is why, in 2017 reports came out that ISIS was working with Iran. Iran》ISIS 》al Qaeda 》911= bomb Iran

    2. At times the GOP has been less supportive of war.

      Almost no one votes based on foreign policy. So, they aren’t voting for war usually.

          1. In my reviews of war votes in Congress, the Kosovo fiasco, was also a congressional tangled heap. The several votes swung wildly both ways. It is significant to recall tho, Gingrich was the GOP then, his faction voted against the war because Clinton would not go all in with an invasion. For that majority of the GOP, it was not an antiwar vote, but, a not enough war vote.
            There was a sizable democratic rejection, tho, in the end both parties supported the war. Prior to that, one would have to go back to the Korean war, but again, gop criticism was that Truman would not expand the war into China, McCarther and nuke stuff…

        1. And I don’t care what anyone here says, if Trump doesn’t come out as less-pro-war than his opponents, he will lose in 2020. When he called for bringing troops home at his rallies recently, people cheered. In the debates, “take the oil” is going to look absurd. He needs to quit being such a coward and bring the troops home from somewhere.

          A few Evangelicals and Mormons calling for war can be appeased by giving Israel something new. Trump could maybe say it’s OK to do something even more horrible to the Palestinians. Zionists generally just want someone to hate and harm. If they can’t destroy Assad, then give them a new target.

          Alternatively, maybe he could “rebuild” some temple there. Peace should be possible. He needn’t give Israel absolutely everything it wants.

          1. I don’t understand, why wouldn’t antiwar voters reject trump based on what he has done, rather than what he says he’s gonna do ?

          2. He needs to act, yes. He needs to bring troops home from Afghanistan, end the mess in Yemen, which is ending on its own regardless. etc.

          3. —–
            And I don’t care what anyone here says, if Trump doesn’t come out as less-pro-war than his opponents, he will lose in 2020. When he called for bringing troops home at his rallies recently, people cheered.

            You may or may not be right about Trump’s prospects if he doesn’t come out as less pro-war than his opponents, but the following sentence, if offered as an argument supporting the first, is a non sequitur.

            The people at Trump rallies 1) represent a tiny fraction of voters, and 2) they’re already pro-Trump enough that they’re probably going to vote for him no matter what he does.

            He’s already got the people who are cheering for him at rallies for talking anti-war while acting pro-war in his pocket. They’re not an indicator of what everyone else thinks.

          4. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?” Trump, mimicking firing a gun with his fingers. “It’s, like, incredible.”

          5. If they are disenchanted, they are less likely to vote. The Zionists will still vote for him even if he exits Syria.

    3. The 2001 AUMF “authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 and any “associated forces”.” Wiki. This is not authorization for the US to attack ill-mannered people anywhere in the world until the turn of the next century. And beyond.

      Plus, the quoted passage doesn’t say anything about “terror.”

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