Ever since President Trump unexpectedly won the US Presidential election on 8th November 2016 he has faced a concerted attempt by his political opponents first to prevent him from being inaugurated as President and – since the inauguration – to remove him from the Presidency through attempts to impeach him.
So far the campaign – though furiously and even hysterically conducted – has been a total failure. This is because the charge which up to how has been made against the President – that he won the Presidency by colluding against Hillary Clinton with the Russians – is baseless and untrue.
President Trump’s opponents might however now care to note that through his attack on Syria President Trump has actually provided them with legitimate grounds to impeach him.
The attack on Syria was a gross violation of international law. Chapter VII of the UN Charter makes it crystal clear that the only body authorised under international law to order the sort of attack the US launched on Sharyat base in Syria is the UN Security Council. The only exception is the one provided under Article 51 of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which permits a state or states which are under attack to take military action in self-defence.
There is no provision in any part of the UN Charter or in international law which permits the US or any other country to engage in a reprisal raid, which is what the US missile attack on Sharyat air base unquestionably was.
What makes the violation of international law in this case especially egregious is that the US launched its missile attack when the UN Security Council was actually debating the setting up of an investigation to look into the circumstances of what happened during the alleged chemical attack on Khan Shekhoun. At the time of the attack the UN Security Council actually had two draft Resolutions before it authorising the setting up of such investigation – one drafted by the Western powers, the other drafted by Russia – both of which were to be put to the vote. In the event the vote which was expected late on Thursday never took place, with the Western powers postponing the discussion indefinitely, so that no decision about setting up an investigation could be taken before the attack on the following day.
Given that no less a person than the President of the United States has now publicly said who he says is the guilty party – President Assad – before the UN Security Council has had any opportunity to look into the issue and set up an investigation, and given that the President has ordered a missile strike on that basis, there would now seem to be no point in setting up an investigation, and I doubt one will be.
At this point I would say that the decision of the Western powers to postpone the UN Security Council vote which was due on Thursday strongly suggests (at least to me) that the heavily unbalanced Western draft Resolution was failing to gain support from the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, creating the hugely embarrassing possibility that it might have failed to win the necessary 9 votes to pass, in which case it would have failed to pass without Russia even needing to exercise a veto.
If so then that would have been something the Western powers would have wanted prevent at all costs. The decision not just to pull the Resolution and postpone the UN Security Council vote but to launch a missile strike on the following day before any vote in the UN Security Council could take place would in that case have been a case of the Western powers going for broke, and acting to close down the whole inquiry of who might actually have been responsible for the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun before it could take place.
Regardless, what is beyond question is that US missile strike which President Trump ordered was – as the Russians say – in legal terms a gross violation of international law and a usurpation of the powers the UN Charter vests exclusively in the UN Security Council.
The missile attack was not however merely a violation of international law. It was also a violation of US law and of the US Constitution.
Firstly, the US is legally bound by the UN Charter, which is an international treaty (as it happens the single most important international treaty) which the US itself largely drafted.
More to the point, Article 11, Section 8 of the US Constitution vests in Congress not the President the power “to declare war”.
It is generally acknowledged that the President as commander in chief has the power to authorise military action where there is an armed attack on the US or a “clear and present danger” to the US.
Neither of these criteria remotely applies in this case despite the President’s attempt in his statement issued after the missile strike to argue otherwise. Given that the President himself admitted in the same statement that the strike was intended as a reprisal raid for the alleged chemical weapons attack which he claims the Syrians carried out on their own people and on their own territory, it is impossible to see how the Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons attack (if it even took place) could possibly constitute a threat to the US justifying immediate action without authorisation from Congress.
There is great uncertainty as to how exactly Congress is supposed to exercise its power “to declare war” so as to authorise military action. However in this case there can be no doubt. By his own admission the President not only failed to seek authorisation from Congress before carrying out the missile strike, but he did not even discuss the missile strike with any of the members of Congress before he ordered it.
In summary, given that the President in ordering the missile strike acted illegally and unconstitutionally the President’s opponents now have clearcut grounds to impeach him should they chose to use them.
Of course they won’t. In the US no President risks impeachment by dealing out death and destruction overseas even if he acts illegally and unconstitutionally when he does it. The case of the missile strike on Sharyat air base is no different.
In a sense this provides a good example of the warped and unhealthy state of current US politics. A President and his administration can be put on the rack over entirely fictitious and evidence free allegations like those which have been made in the Russiagate scandal. However he can violate the law and the Constitution and commit murder and havoc with complete impunity. It is this fact more than any other which explains why the US political system has become simultaneously so completely dysfunctional and so extraordinarily dangerous to other peoples and countries.