Monday, September 09, 2013

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution on war with Syria

Obama gives his major public appeal tomorrow for support in attacking Syria, a country that has not attacked the United States.

Much of the press will focus on atrocity propaganda, much of which will presumably be based on fact. And the parts that aren't may not be authoritatively debunked for months or years, way too late to make a difference to the start of the war.

Syria & Chemical Weapons - Where's The Evidence? The Young Turks 09/09/2013:

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), i.e., Obamacare, back in 2009-10 were sputtering about how many pages there were in the bill, and who knows what scary awful stuff might be buried in there. I'm mean, who's gone read all them pages? Shoot, it's like a book or something.

Well, there is a much shorter resolution on military action approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week: S.J. Resolution 21, Joint Resolution To authorize the limited and specified use of the United States Armed Forces against Syria. It's eleven pages long. I hope some mainstream journalists read it and report on what's in it. That would be nice.

Here are some interesting features. It doesn't just say, "Obama can drop some bombs on Syria for a couple of days and hooray for him." The authorization of force in Section 2 covers four areas:

a) AUTHORIZATION.-The President is authorized, subject to subsection (b), to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate in a limited and specified manner against legitimate military targets in Syria, only to-

(1) respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction by the Government of Syria in the conflict in Syria;
(2) deter Syria's use of such weapons in order to protect the national security interests of the
United States and to protect United States allies and partners against the use of such weapons;
(3) degrade Syria's capacity to use such weapons in the future; and
(4) prevent the transfer to terrorist groups or other state or non-state actors within Syria of any weapons of mass destruction. [my emphasis in bold]
Section 3 sounds like it prohibits the use of US ground troops. But check the last six words (my emphasis): "The authority granted in section 2(a) does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations." Jon Soltz explains what a big loophole that is in Senate Bill Authorizes Tens of Thousands of Combat Troops In Syria Huffington Post 09/06/2013.

Section 5, the "Statement of Policy" section should prompt a lot of questions to the White House, if we had a functioning press corps worth the name:

It is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria.
Does changing "the momentum on the battlefield in Syria" sound like more than a spanking for Assad the New Hitler over chemical weapons? Yeah, it does to me, too.

A comprehensive United States strategy in Syria should aim, as part of a coordinated international effort, to degrade the capabilities of the Assad regime to use weapons of mass destruction while upgrading the lethal and non-lethal military capabilities of vetted elements of Syrian opposition forces, including the Free Syrian Army.
So, the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group that is a party in the civil war, is one of the "United States allies and partners" that we have to protect. Against chemical weapons. And the policy in this resolution is to upgrade their lethal and non-lethal military capabilities" of the Free Syrian Army and other "vetted elements" of rebel groups.

That sounds like a commitment to one side in a civil war to me. I wonder if that might have wider implications than just a couple of days of bombing or firing cruise missiles.

Section 6 is a statement of "Syria Strategy" under the resolution and it has quite a few elements:

(b) ELEMENTS.-The strategy required under sub-section (a) shall include-
(1) the provision of all forms of assistance to the Syrian Supreme Military Council and other Syrian entities opposed to the government of Bashar Al-Assad that have been properly and fully vetted and share common values and interests with the United States;
(2) the provision of all forms of assistance to the Syrian political opposition, including the Syrian Opposition Coalition;
(3) efforts to isolate extremist and terrorist groups in Syria to prevent their influence on the future transitional and permanent Syrian governments;
(4) security coordination with allies and regional partners including Israel, Jordan and Turkey;
(5) efforts to limit support from the Government of Iran and others for the Syrian regime;
(6) planning for securing existing chemical, biological, and other weapons supplies
; and
(7) efforts to address the ongoing humanitarian challenges presented by 2,000,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, and 4,500,000 internally displaced persons in Syria, and related humanitarian needs. [my emphasis]
How is the US going to be "securing existing chemical, biological, and other weapons supplies" without troops on the ground - but only those not "for the purpose of combat operations," of course. And we have another group that's on Our Side, the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Also the Syrian Supreme Military Council and "other Syrian entities," to whom we're going to provide "all forms of assistance."

All forms? Say what?!?

And how long is the President authorized to do this? It's partially buried in the legalese of Sec. 2(c)(1):

Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1547(a)(1)), Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1544(b)), within the limits of the authorization established under this section.
That means two months, 60 days. The Library of Congress Law Library as of this writing explains in its article, "War Powers":

The fourth part of the law concerns Congressional actions and procedures. Of particular interest is Section 1544(b), which requires that U.S. forces be withdrawn from hostilities within 60 days of the time a report is submitted or is required to be submitted under Section 1543(a)(1), unless Congress acts to approve continued military action, or is physically unable to meet as a result of an armed attack upon the United States. Section 1544(c) requires the President to remove U.S. armed forces that are engaged in hostilities "without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization" at any time if Congress so directs by a Concurrent Resolution (50 USC 1544). [my emphasis]
But Section 4 specifies 60 days plus another 30 days essentially at the President's discretion.

In other words, the supposed punitive strike for the use of chemical weapon could mean three months of bombardment of Syria. Bill Clinton's spectacularly badly-named Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 to punish Iraq for being persnickety about WMD inspections lasted only four days.

Three months of bombing in alliance with a bunch of iffy Syrian rebel groups to whom we're providing "all forms of assistance." What could possibly go wrong?

Here's how Obama described what he plans to do in his weekly address of 09/07/2013, after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the resolution: "What we’re talking about is not an open-ended intervention. This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so."

Does that sound like all that resolution authorizes to you? Me neither.

Tags: , , , ,

No comments: