“Make no mistake,” says Phil Giraldi, “there are certain things that every American should know about the Syrian conflict.” First of all, it’s illegal and a war crime.
By Philip Giraldi
Here we go again. The lesson not learned from Afghanistan, or from Iraq, or from Libya will now be also not learned from Syria. This is the second time that President Donald Trump has used volleys of cruise missiles against a country that in no way threatens the United States or its interests. It also comes on top of Secretary of State designate Mike Pompeo positively boasting over the U.S. military having killed hundreds of Russians in Syria in what was clearly a trap designed to do just that.
Make no mistake; there are certain things that every American should know about the Syrian conflict. First of all, the United States and its allies, who are occupying nearly one-quarter of the country, though in a region that is generally sparsely populated, are in Syria illegally. Under international law, attacking and occupying a country that is not directly threatening you without any justifying United Nations Security Council resolution is illegal. It is also a war crime as defined by the Nuremberg trials that followed after the Second World War, which ruled that a war of aggression is the “ultimate war crime,” as it inevitably leads to many other crimes. So the United States is undeniably a war criminal.
That the United States has not been brought to justice for its crimes is largely due to its political and military power, which few nations choose to challenge, but also because it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and is able to veto resolutions criticizing it. There have been numerous motions condemning American behavior, but none of them have made it out of the Security Council. This is not a confirmation of U.S. innocence but rather a result of the politics that operate at the United Nations.
The United States is also in violation of international law because it remains in Syria without the permission of the recognized and legitimate Syrian government. Iranian forces and those of Russia are present on the invitation of Damascus. The United States is not. The United States has also been working to overthrow the legitimate Syrian government acting in collusion with groups of so-called rebels, some of whom are drawn from internationally recognized terrorist groups.
Concerning the assertion being made by the Trump administration that there is responsibility to intervene militarily in Syria to prevent attacks on civilians, there is no such obligation. No country has any right to intervene in the internal workings of any other country without a UN Security Council resolution. If there were such an obligation, the United Nations and the United States would have already intervened in Israel/Palestine, as Israel has been the subject of more resolutions than any other country, nearly all of which have been blocked by the use of the U.S. veto.
If there were actually what the Barack Obama administration used to refer to as a “responsibility to protect” or “R2P,” it would certainly apply to Israel’s current systematic murdering of unarmed demonstrators protesting its occupation of Palestine. Israeli snipers have shot more than 2,000 Gazans who were demonstrating on their own side of the border between Gaza and Israel, targeting in particular individuals who appeared to be leading the protests and also journalists. What Israel is doing to Gaza currently, as well as what it did in 2014, is orders of magnitude worse than what Syria is allegedly doing to rebels on its own territory.
The claim being made by the White House that Syria is a serial user of chemical weapons does not bear scrutiny in any event. Most of the evidence comes from hostile sources, meaning from the rebels themselves, who are not shy about staging atrocities and blaming them on the government in Damascus. Last year’s cruise missile assault on Shayrat Airbase was triggered by assertions that Syria had carried out a chemical weapons attack at Khan Sheikhoun, claims that were dubious at the time and have been challenged repeatedly. Recently, Secretary of Defense James Mattis admitted that there was no actual evidence that the Syrian government had carried out the attack. In the current case, in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the “evidence” for a gassing comes from rebel sources, who controlled the area at the time of the attack, and also from media sources sympathetic to their cause.
A team of investigators from the relatively impartial Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Damascus on the day of the U.S. attack and were to be given access to the site of the alleged gassing by the Syrian government, which now controls the area, but they had not even begun their work. The U.S., Britain, and France attacked without even allowing the process to play out to determine who had done what, a presumption of guilt based on dubious or no evidence, which is in itself suspicious. It was as if they knew that they must act quickly while nearly everyone was accepting the questionable narrative that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had done it.
And then there is motive. The Syrian government had no good reason to use chemical weapons on a pocket of rebels that was rapidly being reduced and was ready to fall. To use such weapons would guarantee international outrage and even military reprisals, such as occurred on Friday. The rebels, on the contrary, who are losing to the Syrian army, had every reason to fake an incident precisely to invite foreign intervention.
And finally, there are the practical and constitutional arguments, which start with an appreciation that previous U.S. interventions in Asia and Africa have all failed to make the United States and the American people any safer; quite the contrary. They have cost trillions of dollars better spent at home as well as thousands of American and millions of foreign lives. And the Syrian cruise missile attack staged last week is also unconstitutional. There was no imminent threat and, lacking that, the president has no authority to use lethal force to compel anyone to do anything. Per Article 1, Section 8, the Constitution requires a congressional authorization to go to war.
Bombing Syria is illegal, immoral, ineffective, and dishonest. It is time for the United States to pull out its troops and leave the Syrians alone. Americans killing Syrians just to stop Syrians from killing each other is a recipe for disaster.
Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and a columnist and television commentator. He is also the executive director of the Council for the National Interest. Other articles by Giraldi can be found on the website of the Unz Review.