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Illegality of Obama Syrian Warfare Policy
Confronted at Pentagon and
State Department Briefings August 4

Aug. 5, 2015 (EIRNS)—Yesterday's Pentagon and State Department briefings were the occasions for sharp questioning of the Obama Syria warfare policy of :

  1. training a few "moderate rebels;"
  2. providing them air strike cover against anyone—including potentially Syrian government forces; and
  3. doing it unilaterally, and calling it legal and Constitutional.

At the Pentagon, spokesman Navy Capt. Jeffrey Davis, was hit with reporters' questions on these matters. He then sent out a statement later in the day admitting officially, that, indeed, on July 31, there was a firefight between a group of U.S.-trained opposition fighters and 50 or so militants, and that the United States did conduct air strikes in support of the U.S.-trained group. The militants were from Jabhat al Nusra, not ISIL. This was the first airstrike not against ISIL, and illustrated the hypothetical of U.S. air strikes against Syrian government forces.

Capt. Davis said:

As for the legal authorities question about engaging Assad's forces, we won't speculate about potential scenarios that might arise. Our train-and-equip program is focused first and foremost on preparing appropriately vetted Syrian opposition forces to counter ISIL. At the commencement of the counter-ISIL campaign, we cautioned Syria not to engage U.S. aircraft. The Syrian regime would be similarly advised not to interfere with the counter-ISIL mission of the Syrian fighters we have trained and equipped. If the Syrian fighters we have trained and equipped come under attack, the President would have the authority under the Constitution to defend those fighters, but we will not discuss our specific rules of engagement.

The relevant backdrop is that, only 60 "moderate rebels" have been trained and equipped so far in the U.S. $500 million 'train-and-equip' program. The original stated goal was 15,000 trainees, but fewer than 7,000 'applied,' and finally, only 60 passed the vetting and training. Davis claimed yesterday not to have any information about casualties among the U.S.-trained fighters in the July 31 firefight; he did admit that five of them were abducted by al Nusra in a separate incident.

At the State Department, Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was less assertive about legal authority. "I frankly don't know what the legal authority is," he said in direct response to a question. When pressed hard on the fact that, there's no Congressional authorization nor is there a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the airstrike campaign that's been underway since last August, much less, for the "major shift in policy" Obama decided on, to protect the U.S.-trained rebels, Toner could only mumble that "we're in consultations" with both the Congress and the UN Security Council.

In fact, the only Administration acknowledgment of the new airstrike policy initiated July 31, came through an unnamed official to a Wall Street Journal blogger, posted Aug. 2. This follows the pattern of the Administration's creeping into warfare without engaging the US Congress and the American public, as it did in Libya in 2011 and almost did in Syria in 2013.

This stealth was castigated by Council of Foreign Relations analyst Micah Zenko, in an Aug. 3 blog posting shortly after the news first broke that Obama had decided to authorize air strikes to defend the U.S.-trained rebels from any and all attackers including, should that situation arise, Assad's forces. "This truly significant decision, which more deeply commits U.S. credibility and military power to the outcome of the Syrian civil war, comes not from behind a White House or Pentagon podium, but rather from an anonymous official speaking to a reporter," writes Zenko.

"This should have been declared publicly by President Obama or Secretary Carter, who should have then been willing to answer some of the clarifying questions that Administration officials have refused to address in Congressional hearings." Furthermore, "the legal basis for this policy decision is totally unclear."

In concluding, Zenko notes that "Congress has still not authorized this latest open-ended war that began one year ago this week."

Or if there is a legal basis, he said, the administration still has not articulated what that is:

[T]he White House or the Pentagon should immediately articulate this legal basis publicly, but given their pattern of behavior we certainly should not expect them to do so.