Attack Syria? Invade Iran?: What Gives Them the (Constitutional)
By JEREMY BRECHER
and BRENDAN SMITH
10/20/05 "Counterpunch" -- -- Testifying before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee on October 19, Condoleezza Rice was asked
whether the Bush administration was planning military action against
Syria. She answered, "I don't think the President ever takes any of
his options off the table concerning anything to do with military
Last time we read the U.S. Constitution, the grave decision to use
military force against another country was a matter for Congress to
decide -- not an "option" for a President.
And last time we read the UN Charter, it provided that "all members
shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or
use of force against the territorial integrity or political
independence of any state."
We've been here before. President Bush used trumped-up fears (like
mushroom clouds over American cities) and frauds (like imaginary
"yellowcake" uranium) to fool the American people into attacking
Iraq. Now we and the Iraqi people are paying the price.
With the American military bogged down in what Lt. Gen. William
Odom, director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan,
calls "the greatest strategic disaster in United States history,"
and with a majority of the American people saying the US made the
wrong decision in using military force against Iraq, it may be hard
to believe that the Bush administration is really contemplating
But regimes facing military embarrassment are notorious for
expanding the theater of war--witness Nixon's expansion of the
Vietnam war into Cambodia. And the same delusions that got us into
Iraq--from imaginary threats of illicit weapons to dreams of welcome
from cheering crowds--are being repeated about Iran and Syria.
War with Syria is already dangerously close. A series of clashes
between US and Syrian troops have killed Syrians and, according to
current and former US officials, raise the prospect that
cross-border military operations may become a dangerous new front in
the Iraq war. According to press accounts, US forces have crossed
the border into Syria, sometimes by accident, sometimes
deliberately. An October 1 meeting of top Bush officials in the
White House considered "options," including "special operations"
against Syria. Bush administration officials are already laying the
groundwork for attacks with the kinds of justifications they used to
ensnare the U.S. in Iraq.
The Bush administration seems to believe that the President has the
power to make war on anybody it chooses without even having to
consult with Congress. Senator Chafee observed to Secretary Rice,
"Under the Iraq war resolution, we restricted any military action to
Iraq." Then he asked, "So would you agree that if anything were to
occur on Syrian or Iranian soil, you would have to return to
Congress to get that authorization?" Rice's reply? "Senator, I don't
want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers. And I think
you'll understand fully that the President retains those powers in
the war on terrorism and in the war on Iraq."
The provisions of the Constitution that limit the power of the
President to make war are wisely designed to protect the people of
our country from just the kind of dubious war that the Bush
administration conducted against Iraq--and that the great majority
of Americans now believe was a mistake. Similarly the restrictions
on aggressive war in the UN Charter protect not only countries that
might be attacked, but also the people of countries whose leaders
may be tempted to conduct such attacks. Nothing could do more for
American's national security today than a reinvigoration of these
constraints on military adventurism.
While we are debating how to extricate ourselves from our quagmire
in Iraq, the Congress and the American people need to make one thing
perfectly clear: Attack on Iran, Syria, or any other country without
the explicit endorsement of the U.S. Congress and the UN is not an
"option" for the President.
As the old saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice,
shame on me!" Congress and the American people allowed President
Bush to fool us into war with Iraq. Shame on us if we allow him to
do it again in Syria, Iran, or anywhere else!
Brendan Smith is a legal scholarand
historian and Jeremy Brecher are the editors, with Jill Cutler, of
IN THE NAME OF DEMOCRACY: AMERICAN WAR CRIMES IN IRAQ AND BEYOND
(Metropolitan/Holt, 2005). They can be reached at:
[Sources: Anne Gearan, "Rice: U.S. May Still Be in Iraq in 10
Years," Associated Press, October 19, 2005./ Evan Lehman, "Retired
general: Iraq invasion was 'strategic disaster'," Lowell Sun,
September 30, 2005/ Princeton Survey Research Associates /Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press, interviews conducted
October 6-10, 2005./ James Risen and David E. Sanger, "G.I's and
Syrians in Tense Clashes on Iraqi Border," New York Times, October
15, 2005./ CQ Transcriptions, October 19, 2005.]
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