In a 40-minute address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, President Barack Obama described the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or ISIS) as "a network of death" and called on world leaders to join the U.S. in taking "concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment."
"There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil," Obama told the General Assembly. He said force is the only language the militants understand, and warned those who have joined ISIS's cause to "leave the battlefield while they can."
A second day of bombings by U.S. military and allied forces inside Syria were reported early Wednesday. One series of airstrikes aimed at alleged ISIS targets near Syria's border with Iraq were followed by reports of separate, earlier strikes near Syria's border with Turkey.
According to news reports, the strikes involved five Arab nations—Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates—though the LA Times notes that "most Arab states are reluctant to take on overtly visible roles in a U.S.-led military coalition. Some fear direct retaliation by Islamic State. Others worry about inflaming their own homegrown extremists, or do not want to act in ways that will advance the agenda of their regional rivals, particularly as concerns the combustible divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims."
Regarding Wednesday's strikes near the Turkish border, which —the New York Times reported:
Airstrikes hit Islamic State military sites early Wednesday, targeting eight Kurdish villages that the militants had seized in recent days in northern Syria near the Turkish border, residents reported.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the strikes, but the Syrian government has not previously conducted operations in the area. Residents said they believed the air attacks were carried out by the American-led coalition against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
The strikes took place overnight; at daybreak Islamic State fighters resumed their offensive on the Kurdish villages, residents reported.
And the Guardian reported on the attacks that took place closer to areas near the Iraq/Syrian border and spoke with Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who said that the fighter jets came from the direction of Turkish airspace and were likely U.S. fighters and not Syrian.
“The people there, the activists, say [the strikes] are probably the [international] coalition, not the regime,” Abdulrahman told the Guardian, referring to the Syrian government. “The strength of the explosions are greater. Like yesterday.”
As the bombing campaign escalates—with administration officials saying these first two days of bombing are "just the beginning"—critics of the Obama administration's actions are resolute in their pronouncements that this latest phase of the United States' so-called "Global War on Terrorism" is not only misguided, but illegal under international law.
Author and historian Howard Friel, writing at Common Dreams on Wednesday, sets out ten reasons why the bombing of Syria betrays international law. In part, he writes:
It is noteworthy that the statements issued by the Obama administration vaguely appeal to “international law” and “self-defense” without citing specific rules of the United Nations Charter, including its cardinal rule, Article 2(4), which prohibits the threat and use of force by states in the conduct of their international relations. This permits administration officials to engage in public diplomacy about the legality of the Syria bombing with little accountability to the public.
Although Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, claimed in her words “a fundamental principle in the United Nations Charter that gives countries the right to defend themselves, including using force on another country’s territory when that country is unwilling or unable to address it,” there is no rule in the Charter that would permit one country (in this case Iraq) to invite a second country (the United States) to bomb a third country (Syria) at the discretion of the first and second countries and without Security Council authorization.
And Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, writes at the Guardian:
Want to decipher what the US military is really doing in Iraq and Syria, or figure out whether its regional war against the Islamic State (Isis) is legal? Good luck. The Obama administration’s secret efforts to redefine the ordinary meaning of key legal terms and phrases has made that near impossible.
For instance, in his Tuesday statement that US airstrikes that have expanded into Syria, Obama studiously avoided any discussion about his domestic legal authority to conduct these strikes. That dirty work was apparently left up to anonymous White House officials, who told the New York Times’s Charlie Savage that both the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) from 2001 (meant for al-Qaida) and the 2002 war resolution (meant for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) gave the government the authority to strike Isis in Syria.
In other words: the legal authority provided to the White House to strike al-Qaida and invade Iraq more than a dozen years ago now means that the US can wage war against a terrorist organization that’s decidedly not al-Qaida, in a country that is definitely not Iraq.
It’s been weeks since initial air strikes began, and the administration has still refused to release a detailed written legal rationale explaining how, exactly, that works.
And writing at Salon on Tuesday, columnist Joan Walsh was among those arguing that as Congress has abdicated their war-making authority to the President, they have allowed the Cheney Doctrine of unrestrained executive authority to become even more entrenched. Walsh writes:
President Obama warned earlier this month that he intended to use airstrikes in Iraq and Syria to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. Immediately the New York Times as well as legal scholars shrieked that the president needed to seek authorization of any Syria strikes from Congress. “Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris,” wrote Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman.
But Congress shrugged. After voting to fund the training of Syrian rebels, both the Senate and the House departed to campaign in the 2014 midterms.
Now that the bombs are dropping, few in Congress are even bothering to argue that they ought to deal with the question when they get back after the election. Sen. Tim Kaine is an exception: he is accusing his colleagues of accepting Dick Cheney’s view of the president’s power to wage pre-emptive war.
Some members of Congress continue to push for debate.
"It is clear we are rapidly becoming more involved in another war in the Middle East," Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said.
President Obama has put together a strong international and regional coalition to address the ISIS threat. We must now leverage this regional coalition to achieve the political solution that will end this crisis. Only a political solution that respects the rights of all Iraqis and Syrians will ultimately dismantle ISIS.
I have called and will continue to call for a full congressional debate and vote on any military action, as required by the Constitution. The American people deserve a public debate on all the options to dismantle ISIS, including their costs and consequences to our national security and domestic priorities.
The rapid escalation of another war in the Middle East underscores the danger of the blank check for endless war passed by Congress in 2001. I could not support this blank check for endless war or the 2002 blank check for war in Iraq. I have introduced legislation to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force and continue to build bipartisan support for their repeal.
There is no military solution to the crisis in Iraq and Syria. In fact, continued U.S. military action will result in unintended consequences. We must remember the roots of ISIS—President Bush’s ill-begotten war.