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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Mess in Syria : Now, if Congress would do its job . . . even occasionally

How'd we get involved in Syria, anyway? Something about "humanitarian interventions?" Well, according to Susan Rice, President Obama's National Security Advisor, it was the "least bad option.":
When White House senior advisers gathered that Friday evening in the Oval Office, Obama began with his description of the challenge he aimed to address. We did not have a clearly valid international legal basis for our planned action, he said, but we could argue that the use of banned chemical weapons made our actions legitimate, if not technically legal. Domestically, we could invoke the president’s constitutional authority to use force under Article II, but that would trigger a 60-day clock under the War Powers Act—meaning that if our actions lasted longer than 60 days, he would need to obtain congressional approval to continue military action. Therefore, before we used any significant force in Syria to address its chemical-weapons use, the president thought it best to invest members of Congress in the decision, and through them the American people.

As usual, Obama was thinking several plays down the field—to the potential need for military action against Iran, should diplomacy fail to force that country to give up its still nascent nuclear-weapons program. Once the precedent was established that Congress should act to authorize military action in Syria, we could insist on the same kind of vote should we need to confront Iran—a much higher-risk proposition that he would want Congress to own with us.

I admired the president’s logic, but disagreed with his assumptions. As Obama polled the aides assembled in the Oval, all agreed with him. He called on me last, as he often did in my role as national security adviser.

The lone dissenter, I argued for proceeding with military action, as planned. We had clearly signaled—most recently that morning in a strong speech by Secretary of State John Kerry—that we intended to hold Syria accountable through the use of force. Our military assets were in place. The UN had been warned. Our allies were waiting. As then–Vice President Joe Biden liked to say, “Big countries don’t bluff.” Finally, I invoked the painful history of Rwanda and predicted we could long be blamed for inaction.
Well, eventually off we went to a sort of war. The sort where we lose our troops for "not technically legal" reasons. And the "War Powers Act?" It's a joke:
The 1973 law was meant to prevent presidents from sustaining wars without congressional approval. But no one thinks the lawsuit will succeed. And the War Powers Act has never been successfully employed to end any military mission.

"The War Powers resolution really does not work," says former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group and the 9/11 Commission.

Instead, the War Powers Act has largely been used as it's being used now — as a political tool that allows Congress to criticize a president about the prosecution of a war.
Excellent piece in Military Times by John Robinson In supporting the Kurds in Syria, US has been playing fast and loose with the law
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Does it matter that not likely a living soul in the current ISIS planned, authorized, or committed the 9/11 attacks, nor aided or harbored 9/11 perpetrators? Apparently, not a wit. Does it matter that the last administration recognized the 2001 AUMF had outlived its shelf-life and offered a new one, including ISIS language, to Congress? Nope; rejected. Does it matter that a bipartisan group of senators subsequently authored a similar AUMF, to accomplish the same thing? Nope; never left the starting blocks.

We’ve been playing fast and loose with the law ever since 2003, when we connected AQI with the 9/11 perpetrators and now, the chickens have come home to roost and we don’t like it.

We partnered with the enemy-of-my-enemy in Syria to fight the son-of-a-son and we made some friends. We confused that partnership with an alliance and that partnership grew to be as strong as an alliance.

But the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs reminded everyone on Thursday that our actual ally, Turkey, had been a NATO ally for the past 70 years. On Sunday, the new secretary of defense gently corrected his Sunday news show host, when she casually referred to our YPG partners as allies. “The Kurds have been very good partners,” the secretary affirmed. There’s a difference between a 70-year ally and a regional partner, no matter how distasteful you find your ally’s actions to be or how loyal you believe your partner to be.

In 2001, the commander in chief declared, “You are either with us, or with the terrorists.” NATO invoked Article 5, which states that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all of its members, for the first time, in response to the 9/11 attacks. NATO allies, including Turkey, aided the coalition effort in Afghanistan.

What if Turkey should invoke Article 5 now, in response to what it sees as a terrorist threat? US forces are withdrawing from areas of combat in northeastern Syria now, but can we see ourselves obligated to a fight on the sides of the allied Turks, against partner Kurds?

Rather than threatening sanctions, Congress should update an AUMF they’ve been dithering on for 16 years. Better still, let Congress declare war on Turkey, on behalf of the Kurds, as Article I, Section 8, Clause 11 of the Constitution authorizes them to do.
Fat chance. Why would they give up the chance to point fingers and assign blame that the current situation gives them?

Laws, apparently, are for little people.

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