National Security Brief: U.S. Lacks Legal Justification For Military Intervention In Syria

The Wall Street Journal late on Friday took an inside look at the Obama administration’s internal deliberations on what the United States should do in Syria and found that the White House appears most skeptical about getting deeply involved, particularly militarily, and the State Department pushing for a greater U.S. role. And those advocating for a military response are being confronted by administration lawyers who aren’t seeing much of a legal green light:

Advocates of intervening faced another hurdle: administration lawyers. Lawyers at the White House and departments of Defense, State and Justice debated whether the U.S. had a “clear and credible” legal justification under U.S. or international law for intervening militarily. The clearest legal case could be made if the U.S. won a U.N. or NATO mandate for using force. Neither route seemed viable: Russia would veto any Security Council resolution, and NATO wasn’t interested in a new military mission.

Administration lawyers honed a third legal justification: collective self-defense, according to current and former officials involved in the deliberations. To work, however, Syria would have to attack one of its neighbors. Besides occasional errant Syrian artillery shells that veered into Turkey, Damascus kept a lid on cross-border tensions to avoid provoking a response.

The Journal also reports that then-CIA director Gen. David Petraeus was one of the more forceful advocates for arming Syrian rebels, “arguing it would help the U.S. build pro-Western allies and shape future leaders of a post-Assad Syria.” While then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton favored the initiative, but shortly after his pitch, Petraeus resigned over an extramarital affair. Then, the Journal adds, “a CIA analysis played down the impact of arming the rebels on accelerating Mr. Assad’s fall, and the proposal to arm the rebels died.”

In other news:

  • The Washington Post reports: U.S. officials and independent experts say North Korea appears to have taken unusual steps to conceal details about the nuclear weapon it tested in February, fuelingsuspicions that its scientists shifted to a bomb design that uses highly enriched uranium as the core.
  • AFP reports: The U.S. operation to remove military hardware and vehicles from Afghanistan as troops withdraw after 12 years of war will cost between $5 billion and $6 billion, officials said Sunday.