“We support the intent behind the President’s statements – to uphold important international norms. But that cannot and should not be accomplished by picking and choosing which international norms will be defended.”
September 7, 2013
The Honorable Anna Eshoo
United States House of Representatives
Dear Congresswoman Eshoo,
Thank you for your public actions regarding the President’s proposal to retaliate against Syria for using banned chemical weapons. We appreciated your call for the President to seek authorization from Congress. In addition, your statement and subsequent letter to Ambassador Rice, co-written with Rep. Lofgren, raised excellent and urgent questions. We share many of the same concerns.
We are writing you to urge you to vote no when the proposed authorization to use military force comes up for a vote.
While we agree with President Obama that upholding the Chemical Weapons Convention is extremely important, we firmly believe that a unilateral US bombing is the wrong response, one that could ultimately prove to be disastrously wrong.
In announcing his intention to seek Congressional authorization, President Obama said, “If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules?”
But if the United States begins an attack without Security Council authorization, it will flout the most fundamental international rule of all — the prohibition on the use of military force, for anything but self-defense, in the absence of Security Council approval.
When President Bush sought authorization to attack Iraq, you voted no, citing this principle in your floor speech:
“We stand four-square against unprovoked attacks … The Bush Doctrine reverses this policy and sets forth that the United States of America has the unrestricted right to attack other nations.”
Syria has not attacked the United States or any of its allies. Syria has not threatened to attack us or our allies. Although President Bush’s invasion of Iraq and President Obama’s proposed strike against Syria are of radically different scale and nature, the basic principle remains the same: the United States has no right or legal authority under international law to attack Syria.
The Chemical Weapons Convention itself, which the President is determined to uphold, outlines the agreed procedures for responding to an alleged use of prohibited weapons. These actions include presenting all gathered evidence to the United Nations, calling on the Executive Council of the Chemical Weapons Convention or the Conference of States Parties to convene a special meeting to consider the situation in Syria and recommend appropriate responses by state parties and the United Nations, including possible referral to the International Court of Justice or other such body for consideration of war crimes charges. There is nothing in the Chemical Weapons Convention that calls upon any state to take upon itself any kind of military enforcement action.
If the United States really wants to uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention, then we should follow the letter and spirit of the Convention.
The President has also cited the deadlock at the UN Security Council as a reason why the US must press ahead unilaterally or with minimal international support.
The UN Charter anticipates the possibility of such a deadlock at the Security Council. In such a situation, the General Assembly is empowered to act in the absence of Security Council action on an urgent matter. Therefore, seeking international authorization to respond in some way to Syria’s use of chemical weapons is far from precluded.
Once again, we support the intent behind the President’s statements – to uphold important international norms. But that cannot and should not be accomplished by picking and choosing which international norms will be defended.
Your joint statement with Rep. Lofgren and subsequent letter to Ambassador Rice raise most of the other aspects of this proposed attack that have us deeply troubled. We are not being told how strenuous an attack this will be. There seems to be no publicly announced plan to respond to any Syrian reprisal over attacks, a likely possibility. As with all military assaults, the probability of civilian casualties seems high and we have been told nothing of plans to preclude the maiming or killing of innocents. And also as with all military adventures, there is a high probability that all will not go as planned and that events will spiral out of control. This is not a region of the world where we should be taking such chances, as our country should have learned.
The President said that his attack plans are not “time sensitive.” Let us not be rushed then into a dangerous course of action such as the President proposes. Our country – and the Congress – should take the time to consider an appropriate and legal response to Syria that upholds all international norms and standards.
You were right to vote against authorizing force in Iraq because the United States does not have an unrestricted right to attack other nations. We urge you to vote no on authorizing the use of military force against Syria.