Why Congress Should Say to ‘No’ on Syria

6 Sep

[I am not sure this attempt at clarifying the present stage of the Syria debate adds much to my prior posts, yet I hope that it provides a kind of summary that is helpful in following the unfolding debate; all along I have felt that the Syrian impasse presented the UN and the world with a tragic predicament: trapped between doing something to stop the Assad regime from committing atrocities against its own people so as to retain power and the non-viabiility and illegality of military intervention, a predicament further complicated by the proxy war within the region along sectarian lines, by the strategic involvement of the U.S. and Russia on opposite sides, the maneuverings behind the scenes by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel, and the avowed Turkish support for regime-changing intervention; also, the overall regional turmoil, and past bad feeling in relation to the UN role in the overthrow of Qadaffi posed additional obstacles; efforts to shape the political outcome by military means, because of the proxy war dimensions (including an increasingly evident, although still surprising, tacit alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia) have so far only escalated the violence on the ground in Syria; Turkey, Russia, and the United States have all along  oscillated between principled and pragmatic responses favoring one side or the other, and exhibiting an ambivalent commitment to equi-distant diplomacy.]

There are three positions that have considerable support in Washington circles, although rarely acknowledged and not popular with the public, partly because of recent foreign policy failures, and partly too removed from perceptions of genuine security interests:

–undertake an attack to uphold ‘red line’ credibility of the president and the United States Government;

–undertake an attack too avoid an insurgent defeat, but on a scale that will not produce an insurgent victory; goal: keep the civil war going;

–undertake an attack to convince Iran that Obama is ready to use force if diplomatic coercion doesn’t work.

There are several other considerations that need to be taken into account:

–the Assad regime is guilty of numerous crimes against humanity aside from and prior to its probable (although far from assured) responsibility for the August 21st attack with chemical weapons on Ghouta; Syria lacks a legitimate government from the perspective of international criminal law; with respect to the violation of the Geneva Accord with respect to chemical weapons, the responsibility of Assad personally and the Syrian government generally has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt at this point;

–nevertheless, the Assad regime retains considerable support from various segments of the Syrian population, possesses substantial military capabilities, and is unlikely to collapse without a major ground invasion; the Assad government retains a measure of legitimacy from the perspective of the politics of self-determination;

–insurgent forces are divided, without coherent leadership, and are also responsible for committing atrocities, and contain political extremists in their ranks; a victory by the insurgency does not seem likely to lead to legitimate governing process from the perspective of law and morality;

–the negative American experiences of relying on war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan should create a presumption against the authorization of force and reliance on military option in conflict situations; there is mounting evidence from past cases that the costs and risks associated with military options tend to be grossly understated during pre-war debates in the United States due partly to the political mobilization role played by mainstream media;

–the diplomatic alternative to force has been handicapped by its past abuse in the UN Security Council with respect to Libya authorization of ‘responsibility to protect’ undermining the trust of Russia, China, and others, and by the refusal to bring Iran into the political conversation as a key actor.

Against this background there are four important independent reasons for Congress to withhold authorization in this instance:

–a use of force that can neither be justified as self-defense, nor is authorized by the UN, is contrary to the UN Charter, which is an obligatory treaty, as well as being the most serious type of violation of international law in a post-Nuremburg world; the Nuremberg precedent with regard to crimes against peace (as the ‘crime of crimes’) should be respected, especially by the United States, which continues to serve for better and worse, as  the main normative architect of world order;

–the Kosovo precedent of ‘illegal, but legitimate’ is not applicable as a military attack is not likely to achieve either its political goals of ending the civil war and of causing the collapse of the Assad regime, nor its moral goals of stopping the slaughter and displacement of the Syrian people, and the devastation of their cities and country;

–even if the political and moral goals could be achieved, Congress, as well as the president, lacks the authority to authorized foreign policy uses of force that are incompatible with the UN Charter and international law;

–Congress should defer to domestic and world public opinion that clearly is opposed to a proposed military attack in the absence of an exceptional demonstration can be made as to the positive political and moral benefits of such an attack; for reasons mentioned, no such demonstration can be made in this instance; even the European Union has withheld support for a military attack on Syria at the

September meeting of the G-20 in St. Petersburg; only France among America’s traditional allies supported Obama’s insistence on reliance on a punitive military strike, supposedly for the sake of enforcing international law, bizarre reasoning because the rationale reduces to the following proposition: in view of the political realities, it is necessary to violate international law so as to be able to enforce it.


19 Responses to “Why Congress Should Say to ‘No’ on Syria”

  1. Mike 71 September 7, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    The situation is not presently, but could yet degenerate into an Article 51 (U.N. Charter Article 51, recognizing the right to “individual, or collective self-defense.”) situation for the U.S. and Israel, if in the absence of any U.S. action, Syria and/or Hezbollah strike at Israel. See: http://www.debka.com/23249/damascus-hizbollah-jack-up-threats-on-israel-in-absence-of-obama-netanyahu-coordination-on-syria (Sept. 2,2013, 23:00 IDT) Obama’s ham-fisted handling of the U.S. response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack threatens to escalate a regional war crime by the Syrian government into a regional war. Despite the evidence of war crimes against its own people, Syria has not committed an act of aggression against any of its neighbors, but could do so if the reports of Israeli intelligence prove accurate. This situation requires turning all evidence of war crimes over to the U.N. for appropriate investigation, provided Russia and China allow it do do so, and have cooler heads prevail, cease saber-rattling and stand down.

    Obama’s throwing the proposed Syrian attack into the lap of Congress, was likely an attempt to buy time for an alternative resolution during his G-20 visit to St. Petersburg, Russia, where his meeting with President Putin proved fruitless. According to an earlier Debka report, Iran and Russia had proposed transferring Syria’s chemical weapons to Tehran for either stockpiling, or destruction, as an alternative to the proposed U.S. strike. This Iranian-Russian proposal could only be accepted by the West if the weapons were slated for destruction, but would have the advantages for the Assad regime of removing the material source of the atrocity, likely preventing repetition and making proof of Assad’s involvement more difficult, as the evidence obtained from blood and tissue samples recovered by U.N. inspectors, could not be linked to the weapons. It would also put the Iranians and Russians in the position of being mediators, rather than obstructionists. See: http://www.debka.com/23247/iran-russia-advise-assad-to-transfer-chemical-stockpile-to-tehran-to-avert-us-attack (Sept. 2, 2013, 09:59 IDT)

    In conclusion, the proposed U.S. attack on Syria is neither justified pursuant to Article 51, nor is it in the security interests of either the U.S., or Israel. Likewise, the saber-rattling and bellicose threats of the Assad regime and Hezbollah to attack Israel, irrespective of what the U.S. does, equally contribute to the real threat of initiating a regional war. The I.D.F. is already well known for its ability to strike fast and hard. Syria does not need to add it to its current list of enemies, particularly when it has the potential to tip the balance against the regime.

  2. Gene Schulman September 7, 2013 at 1:57 am #

    Dear Richard,

    As usual, another fine post on the situation in Syria. You will notice that in my own comments to your various, I am always asking “what is to be done?” Well, I have finally found someone who seems to be asking the same question: Thierry Meyssan, whom I met many years ago when he was the most vociferous of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. In this article http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article36127.htm, I think he offers some reasonable choices. Of course, I don’t expect any of them to be followed.

    Bon continuatîpn, Gene

  3. john francis lee September 7, 2013 at 3:18 am #

    I read of the plans for near-total war being made within the US Wehrmacht and I am convinced that Obama has lost whatever control he ever did exert over the Isreali/TNC domination of ‘his’ government.

    Unless the congress does wakeup and take charge – and I think they are even more thoroughly dominated by Israel/the TNCs than is Obama, therefore no chance – we are going to have to get the republicrats to impeach Obama, and then Biden … while we organize to take over the House in 2014 : to elect ordinary, Americans of integrity, like ourselves to a majority.

    Longer term we need structural changes to allow our domination of our government rather than its continued domination of ourselves. There’s a lot of work to be done.

    The idea of the general assembly doing what needs to be done is beautiful … and longer term the UN does need exactly the same kind of democratic restructuring that our US government does : eliminate the ‘more equal’ hegemons – the ‘permanent’ pig members of the security council and envigorate the assembly.

    But this is all talk. Israel is on track to destroy Syria just as she has destroyed Iraq, Libya, Yemen … using the American Wehrmacht to do so. And during the orgy of destruction in Syria Iran will probably be drawn into the fray and destroyed as well. Of course that will be the beginning of the real war.

    The weakling, make-believe president, the Noble Peace Prize Laureate/Israeli foil and dupe has truly brought us to the edge of the abyss now.

    • oldguyincolorado September 7, 2013 at 8:11 am #

      Of course Isreal wants to destroy Syria – Isreal really needs more Islamists sending her more rockets and suicide bombers, causing Isreal to expend even more of her resources to build up more defenses and leaving her with fewer assets to continue to build and strengthen her own civil society. Isreal must find a way to put a damper on the feelings of safety and peace being felt by her own population. More young Isrealis must be placed on military alert and kept from pursuing their own individual dreams. More Isrealis must be put at risk and face the random threat of death by the “peaceful” Islamic groups which will likely come to play an even more important role in the governance of Syria after Assad is gone. That Syrian border has been peaceful for far too long! And yes, Isreal did help destroy Iraq, Libya, Yemen and you forgot Somalia, etc. Isreal needs more Islamists getting their hands on more sophisticated weapons when regimes become destabilized. What joy Isreal now has with Syria going the same way – the Islamists will soon have serin gas weapons to shoot at Isreal. Oh, what a wonderous thing!

      Look at what Isreal has gained by all of the agitation of the Islamists in the region: an increased threat of war; economic instability in the region so she has fewer possible trading partners; an increasingly unstable border with Egypt and now Syria; the increased overt hostilty of Iran which, when Syria becomes partitioned, will then be able to assert even more influence in the region; etc. ad naseum.

      Mr. Lee, I urge that you start to think about the “down side” of what Isreal faces if she were to actually want what you say and did what you state. Suicide is not in the nature of an Isreali, but it is in the nature of the “Martyr” she faces.

      The only regime change that would be in the best interests of Isreal would be for each of the Muslim dictatorships to peacefully evolve into a democracy. Changes by war only produce more Islamic centers of power. That is not good for Isreal or we Americans, is it? Think about it.

      Now let’s see: what is the name of the party you expect to take over Congress and run the government; the one with “ordinary Americans”, the one with “people of integrity”, like you?

      Professor Falk, I would be very interested in seeing how you and the other pro-UN/anti-Isreali folks who follow your site respond to Mr. Lee. Should be fun to watch.

      • Kata Fisher September 7, 2013 at 9:21 am #


        This is confusing, even to me…

        What exactly is fun to watch? There is no fun to a single thing that is going on; regardless what approach one may apply. I would avoid conflict all together; still, what is to strive for? Upholding constitution itself is impossible as Mr. Lee was suggesting: what to do?

        So you may tell us this: “how can anyone uphold the constitution of US when constitution is not applicable to US?” What? the constitution of US is not applicable to US? I think that this is a fair reflection, somewhat.

        How can this be?

        Please correct me where I am wrong.

      • Mike 71 September 11, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

        Excellent Sarcasm, old guy! It is often said that one should go with the devil you know (Assad) rather than the one you don’t know (Jabhat al-Nusra. To their credit, the Assad family had kept the Golan border peaceful and quiet from 1974 to 2012. Why should Israel intervene in Syria, or encourage the U.S. to do so, when Hezbollah and al-Nusra combatants kill each other in record numbers to the benefit of Israel and the U.S.? Both the U.S. and Israel should stay out of the Syrian Civil War and let the course of events work to their advantage.

        If the Russian proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control for destruction succeeds, all the better, but that will not likely otherwise affect the course of the Civil War. Let the bloodletting continue!

  4. ray032 September 7, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    I have a “high degree of confidence” if the US, without the approval of the UN, launches the 1st Tomahawk missile, it will be the match igniting the power keg the Middle East now is, and like the confusion of Sodom, fire will come down from the sky to consume the people just like the Book says will happen.

    That’s way too bad though, when the same Book says so many greater and better things for the people could happen if people judged for Justice and Truth and not just for hire and profit.

  5. monalisa September 7, 2013 at 9:51 am #

    Dear Richard,

    unfortunately I don’t see any wise and sane approach to the Syrian problem on stage !
    Even the EU and with it Merkel signed some sort of approval …..

    What today will be seeded its result will be on the heads of our children and grandchildren – that’s for sure !

    Lies and hate planted, Western state rulers ready to give order to murder …. what can be the possible outlook ???

    I am greatly ashamed of the EU ….
    beheaving like a moonwalker …. a real puppet of US ….
    or insane despite we had enough to suffer by wars in Europe …..

    When will be Western state criminals put onto the Haghue War Tribunal …..
    as since WWII permanently … practically in ten-year intervals – wars were/are created with the only purpose to bomb small states not equal military equipped into stone age ….and to create more and more orphans …

    Hate seeds hate …. and to what will lead greed and hubris together with arrogance as well as neglicence of our environment ??

    Take care of yourself


  6. Kata Fisher September 7, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    I have a reflection:

    It seems that there is a great deal of work for UN to accomplish. It seems that UN has been sluggish in keeping up with threats and weaknesses to the institution, and are partial when comes to the sanctions, and the way they uphold the laws by which they are to stand by. When will they apply accountability to themselves –or anyone? As institution UN preforms a constant activity; yet, no impacts to newest problems at hand. The mission of the UN, as an institution is fragmented betwixt where they are and what the members are up to. It is visible; it is clear that there is no validity of mutual goal as everyone is pushing for their own agenda, and no institutional goals. There is no sanity to this, and this condition is unsustainable for UN, as an institution

  7. Kata Fisher September 7, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    I have another reflection:
    This is what should take place: All lands that do not come up to the standard of International Laws and treaties should be excommunicated from UN body of government. Their diplomats will be there to represent them, in reference to their lawful ways? Or not lawful ways? Meaning, when will they uphold the standards to which they are to be held responsible? I see no sanity in any other way.

  8. Francis Oeser September 8, 2013 at 10:59 am #

    Again, a good set of thoughts (appropriate, thoughtful and wise). But there is another issue worth airing: there has been a growing number of governments bahaving like global companies as if there is no millieu in which they exist. Ie: government (authority) without
    responsibility or guidance – the “exceptional circumstances” you’ve mentioned before ‘justifying’ US action.
    There really is no moral framework for anyone as there is no authority granted universal laws, standards, traditions.
    This happens due to secrecy and lies to which media turn a blind eye and the rest of us are often unaware. THIS is the system running the world just now. We MUST all insist that agreement and signature are binding otherwise flouting is general and chaos and rage universal. Membership of the Security Council could be a condition of nations swearing acceptance. The ICC needs sharper teeth.You mention the Palestine situation which is as apt a detail of the destrucive effect of secrecy and obscurement as one is likely to find.
    Put another way, Sigmund Freud explained the unconsious two centuries ago, the power of the unspoken, the invisible, is well understood. It’s time we acknowledged that! Time to limit mankind’s dark side.
    It’s worth remembering children understand dishonesty. Adults forget; our ambitions and greed destroy our better aspirations without which we have no future at all. The poor, poor Syrians.

  9. Andrew September 9, 2013 at 1:04 am #

    Dear Mr Falk, I’m part of a group of people awaiting approval from the Syrian government for visas to join the international solidarity human shield movement to Syria. Have you read journalist and lawyer Franklin Lamb about this on counterpunch? ‘Will plus American’s to Syria stop another criminal war? What are your thoughts about this move? Would you be willing to join? In warm solidarity, Andrew

    • Richard Falk September 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm #


      I am in Australia to do some talks. I do know enough to give any advice about
      going to Damascus at this point. Talk with Franklin Lamb if he is available.
      I wish you the best. Stay safe, be careful.

  10. jg September 10, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    President Obama’s made it clear what he stands for.at his address this evening, and made the connection to American national interests..
    I am not sure how a “pin prick” strike, will be just that, if there is retaliation. The statement made was that the U.S. and it’s allies, including Israel is more than equipped to handle any response, should this come about.
    I am not assured or clear about information stating the attack originated from Assad’s forces.

    I read that U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, stated that “the chain of command” had to be determined and an investigation must to be conducted. This is not concluded.

    Albert Einstein said ‘You cannot simultaneously prevent, and prepare for war’.

    An attack would be viewed as an act of aggression, it seems, and might result in repercussions for the U.S.

    I saw the Charlie Rose interview with Assad. I can’t say I know what has happened, except many died in the chemical attack, thousands are fleeing and the refugees are suffering everywhere from this conflict, especially children.

    President Obama cannot come across as weakened; many do not want military intervention.

    The mission is removal of chemical weapons stockpile in Syria.

    I wondered about Israel’s stockpile of chemical weapons, if Israel signed a treaty not to use them and has them as a “deterrent”.

    I hope President Obama, and others, will reach an agreement.

    I hope the country will not be misled, for a positive outcome, and the conflict in Syria to end. This is very dire.

    I saw part of ‘THE WORLD PEACE GAME” on PBS. Under the guidance of teacher, Mr. Hunt, children, in an 8 session “game”, resolved what “adults cannot”…
    The children were very enthusiastic, that is all I remember.


  11. Engelbert Luitsz September 12, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    Dit is op JUS IN BELLO herblogden reageerde:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: