Saturday, November 14, 2015

They've widened the field

The White House defence of President Obama's Thursday evening statement to ABC News on ISIS -- "we have contained them" -- is that he was referring to their status in Syria and Iraq. That's technically accurate, since his follow-on remarks refer to Syria and Iraq. But as an argument, it's no less problematic than the surface awkwardness of the timing. The reason is that the basis for US military intervention in Syria and Iraq relies on the idea that ISIS is a threat beyond those countries. Here's the letter from US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power giving the international law justification for the operations in Syria and Iraq --

ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria are a threat not only to Iraq, but also to many other countries, including the United States and our partners in the region and beyond. States must be able to defend themselves, in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, as reflected in Article 51 if the UN Charter, when, as is the case here, the government of the State where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks. The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe-havens effectively itself. Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL threat to Iraq, including by protecting Iraqi citizens from further attacks and by enabling Iraqi forces to regain control of Iraq’s borders. In addition, the United States has initiated military actions Syria against al-Qaida elements in Syria known as the Khorasan Group to address terrorist threats that they pose to the United States and our partners and allies.

Since (1) the Pentagon recently announced that it had killed the head of the "Khorasan Group" (a name they made up to find a reason to attack al-Nusra Front), (2) Syria has since asked Russia for help in attacking ISIS, and (3) ISIS has shown that it can attack beyond its region well over a year after the original military action began, the entire international law justification for the operations now rests on the dubious benchmark of Iraq at some point having full control of its territory. By narrowing the scope of the claimed success of those operations to their impact on Syria and Iraq, Obama was essentially conceding that a key rationale for the operation, and the one most closely linked to US national security, is invalid.

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