Gardiner Harris, “Tillerson Says U.S. Troops to Stay in Syria Beyond Battle With ISIS,” New York Times, January 17, 2018.
“Donald Trump and international law,” The Trenchant Observer, May 16, 2017.
“New strategy and accompanying military action needed in Syria; Justification under International Law,” August 25, 2013.
Harris of the New York Times reported:
WASHINGTON — American troops will remain in Syria long after their fight against the Islamic State to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria take over areas that have been newly liberated with help from the United States, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said on Wednesday.
Staying in Syria, Mr. Tillerson said, will help ensure that the Trump administration does not repeat what he described as the mistakes of former President Barack Obama, who withdrew troops from Iraq before the extremist threat was doused and failed to stabilize Libya after NATO airstrikes that led to the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
“We cannot allow history to repeat itself in Syria,” Mr. Tillerson said during a speech at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University near San Francisco. “ISIS has one foot in the grave, and by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two.”
Mr. Tillerson said the military commitment to Syria was “conditions-based” and not indefinite. But he underscored that it would take time to foster a democratically elected government in Syria that he — like the Obama administration — said would require Mr. Assad’s departure from power.
“Responsible change may not come as immediately as some hope for, but rather through an incremental process of constitutional reform and U.N.-supervised elections,” he said.
The United States has five key goals in Syria, Mr. Tillerson said. They are: ensuring that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda never re-emerge; supporting the United Nations-led political process; diminishing Iran’s influence; making sure the country is free of weapons of mass destruction; and helping refugees to return after years of civil war.
As is clear from the legal analysis in the articles by The Trenchant Observer listed above, there is no legal basis under international law for the presence of American troops in Syria. The irony here is that Barack Obama justified his inaction in Syria in 2011 and subsequent years in part on the ground that such action would not be permitted under international law, in essence accepting the Russian argument. We suggested at the time that a strong argument under international law could be make for military intervention in Syria to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale.
A half a million Syrian dead later, due in part to Obama’s inaction, is it not time to formulate a foreign policy towards Syria that is supported by international law?
What are the implications for international affairs of deploying U.S. troops in Syria without any justification under international law?
If the U.S. can do that, why can’t any state? And if any state can do that, what is left of the U.N. Charter prohibitions against the illegal use of force across international frontiers?
Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems oblivious to international law in general, and to its implications for deploying 2,000 troops in Syria in particular.
The Trenchant Observer