by Philip Giraldi
April 18, 2013

Watching Senator John McCain foam at the mouth with his calls for war against Syria reminds one that President Barack Obama has done well to resist strident demands from congress and the media to use the U.S. armed forces in a direct role to remove President Bashar al-Assad. Which is not intended to suggest that nothing is going on. Washington has long been fighting a secret war seeking to bring about regime change in Syria in the mistaken belief that the fall of Damascus will inevitably produce a similar result in Iran. The White House humanitarian interventionists and friends of Israel have only been stalled in their effort to bring down al-Assad by stealth due to legitimate and belated concerns that empowering the rebels might produce far worse results than a continuation of Baathist rule. One would have thought that a lesson had been learned from the disastrous intervention in Libya, but apparently Washington operates on a principle of never looking back. That coupled with an attention span that appears to encompass something like 48 hours means that the White House will be continuously refighting the last war with predictable results.

However one judges the Obama foreign policy, and even conceding faint praise due to the president’s clear reluctance to enter into another major war, there has been a fundamental shift in how the United States conducts what it regards as counter-terrorism operations, the new form of hot war for the twenty-first century. The U.S. war on al-Qaeda is theoretically based on several legal principles. First, it assumes that an organization called al-Qaeda attacked the United States on September 11th 2001. As al-Qaeda is not a foreign nation, the United States congress passed a resolution (the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force) that declared war on it as a transnational entity, meaning that it could be attacked by U.S. forces wherever it might be found if the local government were incapable of acting against it, a principle also endorsed by the United Nations position on what constitutes legitimate self-defense. That attacking al-Qaeda anywhere would likely mean taking military action against sovereign nations where al-Qaeda might be physically located against the will of the locals complicated the issue, but the principle was that the so-called global war on terror was actually a defense against an attacker.

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