The End of International Law?

Syrians mourn their killed relatives in the village of Sukkiraya, on the Syria-Iraq border. US forces in Iraq staged a "successful" raid into Syria against foreign fighters, an American official said Monday, as a furious Damascus accused Washington of "terrorist aggression." (AFP/Ramzi Haidar)

The End of International Law?

A parallel new Bush doctrine is emerging, in the last days of the
soon-to-be-ancien regime, and it needs to be strangled in its crib.
Like the original Bush doctrine -- the one that Sarah Palin couldn't
name, which called for preventive military action against emerging
threats -- this one also casts international law aside by insisting
that the United States has an inherent right to cross international
borders in "hot pursuit" of anyone it doesn't like.

They're already applying it to Pakistan, and this week Syria was the target. Is Iran next?

Let's take Pakistan first. Though a nominal ally, Pakistan has been the
subject of at least nineteen aerial attacks by CIA-controlled drone
aircraft, killing scores of Pakistanis and some Afghans in tribal areas
controlled by pro-Taliban forces. The New York Times listed, and mapped, all nineteen such attacks in a recent piece describing Predator attacks across the Afghan border, all since August. The Times
notes that inside the government, the U.S.Special Operations command
and other advocates are pushing for a more aggressive use of such
units, including efforts to kidnap and interrogate suspected Taliban
and Al Qaeda leaders. Though President Bush signed an order in July
allowing U.S. commando teams to move into Pakistan itself, with or
without Islamabad's permission, such raids have occurred only once, on
September 3.

The U.S. raid into Syria on October 26 similarly trampled on Syria's
sovereignty without so much as a fare-thee-well. Though the Pentagon
initially denied that the raid involved helicopters and on-the-ground
commando presence, that's exactly what happened. The attack reportedly
killed Badran Turki Hishan al-Mazidih, an Iraqi facilitator who
smuggled foreign fighters into Iraq through Syria. The Washington Post was ecstatic, writing in an editorial:

"If Sunday's raid, which targeted a senior al-Qaeda
operative, serves only to put Mr. Assad on notice that the United
States, too, is no longer prepared to respect the sovereignty of a
criminal regime, it will have been worthwhile."

Is it really that easy? To say: We declare your regime criminal, and so
we will attack you anytime we care to? In its news report of the attack
into Syria, the Post
suggests, in a report by Ann Scott Tyson and Ellen Knickmeyer, that the
attack is raising cross-border hot pursuit to the level of a doctrine:

"The military's argument is that 'you can only claim
sovereignty if you enforce it,' said Anthony Cordesman, a military
analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 'When
you are dealing with states that do not maintain their sovereignty and
become a de facto sanctuary, the only way you have to deal with them is
this kind of operation,' he said."

The Times broadens the possible targets from Pakistan and Syria to Iran, writing (in a page one story by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker):

"Administration officials declined to say whether the
emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against
camps inside Iran that have been used to train Shiite 'special groups'
that have fought with the American military and Iraqi security forces."

That, of course, has been a live option, especially since the start of
the surge in January, 2007, when President Bush promised to strike at
Iranian supply lines in Iraq and other U.S. officials, including Vice
President Cheney, pressed hard to attack sites within Iran, regardless
of the consequences.

On October 24, I went to hear Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, speaking at the Washington Institiute for Near East Policy (WINEP),
a pro-Israeli thinktank in Washington. He spoke with pride about the
vast and growing presence of these commando forces within the U.S.
military, noting that their budget has doubled under the Bush
administration and that, by the end of the decade, their will more than
60,000 U.S. forces in this shadowy effort. Here are some excerpts of
Vickers' remarks:

"If you look at the operational core of our Special
Operations Forces, and focus on the ground operators, there are some
15,000 or so of those -- give or take how you count them -- these range
from our Army Special Forces or our Green Berets, our Rangers, our
Seals, some classified units we have, and we recently added a Marine
Corps Special Operations Command to this arsenal as well. In addition
to adding the Marine component, each of these elements since 2006 and
out to about 2012 or 2013 has been increasing their capacity as well as
their capabilities, but their capacity by a third. This is the largest
growth in Special Operations Force history. By the time we're done with
that, there will be some things, some gaps we need to fix undoubtedly,
but we will have the elements in place for what we believe is the
Special Operations component of the global war on terrorism.

"Special Operations Forces, I think through this decade and into the
next one, have been and will remain a decisive strategic instrument.

"There's been a very significant -- about a 40 or 50 percent increase
in operational tempo and of course more intense in terms of the action
since the 9/11 attacks. On any given day that we wake up, our Special
Operations Forces are in some sixty countries around the world. But
more than 80 percent or so of those right now are concentrated in the
greater Middle East or the United States Central Command area of
responsibility -- the bulk of those of course in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Notice what he said: operating in 60 countries.

Of course, the very invasion of Iraq was illegal in 2003, and it
flouted international law. So some may say, these cross-border raids
are small potatoes. But they're not. This is a big deal. If it becomes
a standard part of U.S. military doctrine that any country can be
declared "criminal" and thus lose its sovereignty, then there is no
such thing as international law anymore.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked about this, here's what he said, as quoted in the Post article cited earlier:

"'We will do what is necessary to protect our troops,'
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in Senate testimony last month,
when asked about the cross-border operations. Under questioning, Gates
said that he was not an expert in international law but that he assumed
the State Department had consulted such laws before the U.S. military
was granted authority to make such strikes."

Not an expert in international law? He'll leave it to the State
Department? And this is the guy that Barack Obama's advisers say ought
to stay on at the Pentagon under an Obama administration?

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