Donald Trump says the United States is about to bomb Syria, and Russia has vowed to shoot down US aircraft with missile defenses in response. With John Bolton, the new national security adviser and infamous enemy of the United Nations by Trump's side, diplomacy is not in the cards.
Although there has been no independent investigation, Trump is blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for an alleged chemical attack on Saturday in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, that killed 49 people.
As he did before bombing Syria with Tomahawk missiles one year ago -- also in retaliation for an alleged gas attack -- Trump is rushing to judgment about who was responsible. And once again, the military force that he's threatening to use now would violate both the War Powers Resolution and the UN Charter.
Moreover, as a group of international law experts, including this writer, noted in a statement, "an act of violence committed by one government against another government, without lawful justification, amounts to the crime of aggression: the supreme international crime which carries with it the evil of every other international crime, as noted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946."
Bombing Syria could also lead to a dangerous confrontation with Russia. Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning: "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
Yevgeny Serebrennikov, first deputy chairman of Russia's upper house's Defense Committee, said Sunday that Russia would immediately respond to US airstrikes in Syria. "A military intervention under far-fetched and fabricated pretexts in Syria, where there are Russian soldiers at the request of the legitimate Syrian government, is absolutely unacceptable and could have the most dire consequences," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Both Syrian and Russian authorities denied that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack.
Assad has already taken back from the rebels over 90 percent of Eastern Ghouta, which includes Douma, so it seems unlikely he would attack Douma. Moreover, Trump announced last week he intended to withdraw US troops from Syria. It is thus counterintuitive to conclude Assad would have launched a gas attack in Douma.
On April 6, 2017, Trump bombed Syria after declaring that Assad had used sarin gas at Khan Sheikhoun two days earlier. Assad had denied ordering the attack. But the Trump administration ignored all dissenting voices.
Assad's responsibility for the 2017 attack has never been definitively confirmed. Indeed, on February 8, Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted the United States had "no evidence" that the Assad government used Sarin against the Syrian people.
Trump said the United States is "getting clarity" and "some pretty good answers" about who was responsible for the Douma attack. But no independent investigation has yet been done.
Nonetheless, Trump has signaled that he's about to authorize the firing of missiles at Syria. That would be illegal and potentially catastrophic.
The War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress in the wake of the Vietnam War, permits the president to introduce US troops into hostilities or imminent hostilities only when Congress has declared war, when Congress has passed "specific statutory authorization" for the use of military force, or when there is "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."
None of these three prongs is present to justify the use of military force in Syria. Congress has neither declared war nor passed legislation authorizing a US attack on Syria, and Syria has clearly not attacked the United States or US armed forces. As a result, a military attack on Syria would run afoul of the War Powers Resolution.