A Not-specified Adjourned Attack

Update below.

The letter President Obama has drafted to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate seeking authorization for the use of U.S. military forces in connection with the conflict in Syria has a much broader scope than just a “punitive” strike, as has been noted in several comments.

“Whereas, on August 21, 2013, the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, Syria, killing more than 1,000 innocent Syrians;

Whereas these flagrant actions were in violation of international norms and the laws of war;

Whereas the United States and 188 other countries comprising 98 percent of the world’s population are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling or use of chemical weapons;

Whereas, in the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, Congress found that Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction threatens the security of the Middle East and the national security interests of the United States;

Whereas the United Nations Security Council, in Resolution 1540 (2004), affirmed that the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons constitutes a threat to international peace and security;

Whereas, the objective of the United States’ use of military force in connection with this authorization should be to deter, disrupt, prevent, and degrade the potential for, future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction;

Whereas, the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement, and Congress calls on all parties to the conflict in Syria to participate urgently and constructively in the Geneva process; and

Whereas, unified action by the legislative and executive branches will send a clear signal of American resolve.


(a) Authorization. — The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in connection with the use of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in the conflict in Syria in order to —

(1) prevent or deter the use or proliferation (including the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors), within, to or from Syria, of any weapons of mass destruction, including chemical or biological weapons or components of or materials used in such weapons; or

(2) protect the United States and its allies and partners against the threat posed by such weapons.

(b) War Powers Resolution Requirements. —

(1) Specific Statutory Authorization. — Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

(2) Applicability of other requirements. — Nothing in this joint resolution supersedes any requirement of the War Powers Resolution.”

Congress is rather being asked to authorize a fully-fledged war in the Middle East including Syria’s allies in Lebanon and, of course, Iran. There is no defined endpoint as would have been expected if the attack was punitive. Confusing is another version of how many Syrians had been killed in the 21 August chemical weapons attack according to intelligence. After “at least 350” as mentioned in the British Joint Intelligence Organisation assessment of 29 August; and 1,429 in the 30 August U.S. Government assessment, it is now “more than 1,000 innocent Syrians”, suggesting that a considerable number of not-so-innocent Syrians had been killed as well.

But it’s even worse. In an interview with McClatchy, Mary Ellen O’Connell, a University of Notre Dame law professor knows, “Unfortunately, the president’s draft (authorization) states a violation of international law in every line.” According to O’Connel, resort to military force is not permitted to punish the use of banned weapons, to address arms proliferation, or to response to vague threats to the United States. Instead, national self-defense or actions explicitly authorized by the United Nations’ Security Council are the only two kinds of military action acceptable under international law. And that seems to be highly unlikely.

In the meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry has proclaimed that the administration could go ahead with its war even without backing of Congress.

2 September 2013 @ 1:32 pm.

Update September 3, 2013. AFP reports that French intelligence blames the Assad regime for a “massive” chemical attack last month but mentions another death toll of “at least 281”, which is five times lower than the 1429 claimed by the U.S, although “reports of up to 1,500 killed were consistent with such heavy use of chemical weapons.”

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