President Obama avoided a disaster yesterday by agreeing to a Russian proposal that would lead to Syria giving up its chemical weapons and agreeing to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. Otherwise, he planned to "strike" Syria even though his proposal was bound to fail in Congress. Nevertheless, he still maintained in his Tuesday speech that he has the right and authority to attack Syria without the approval of Congress.
Most of the discussions in Congress have also been concerned about the consequences of an American attack on Syria. It seems that no one questions the right of the United States to attack another country that has not attacked it.
According to the UN Charter, military action is permitted only in self defense or when it is authorized by the UN Security Council. As Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, stated recently, "US Unilateral Action Against Syria Will Violate UN Charter." Even a threat of war is against the UN Charter unless it is approved by the UN Security Council.
There are many questions about who really used chemical weapons in Syria. In fact, Russia presented a report in June to the UN that "scientific analysis indicates that a deadly projectile fired by the Syrian rebels that hit a suburb of the city of Aleppo on March 19 contained the nerve agent sarin."
More recent reports show that some of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles are not well-guarded and could have fallen into the hands of the rebels. Also, Prince Bandar, the head of intelligence in Saudi Arabia is reputed to have provided chemical weapons to the rebels.
So, while it is not clear who actually used chemical weapons in Syria, since Syria has not attacked the United States, President Obama or even Congress does not have the right under international law to "strike" or take any kind of military action against Syria.
Part of the problem is that apparently, President Obama is simply following President Bush's policies which completely ignored the UN and attempted to collect partners and allies to attack Iraq for example. Thus, President Obama's statement that we are going to "strike" Syria is illegal under international law. Similarly, statements such "Assad must go" or "Assad must be punished" are beyond the norm. The U.S. is a signatory of the UN Charter and must abide by its conventions in dealing with other countries. But, it seems that American politicians still live in the 19th Century and believe that the U.S. is the master of the universe and it can take military action anywhere it wants.