Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Did President Obama Just Adopt My Lexington Rule?

Is the Obama Doctrine taking shape in a way that will (or should if they weren't so partisan) horrify the Hope and Change crowd?

President Obama has justified our strikes on targets in Syria by saying that Syria is failing to police their territory:

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power wrote, "The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively itself."

The strikes were needed to eliminate a threat to Iraq, the United States and its allies, she wrote, citing Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which covers an individual or collective right to self-defense against armed attack.

"States must be able to defend themselves ... when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks," Power wrote in the letter obtained by Reuters.

One, enjoy the argument that we don't need a sacred UN Security Council Resolution to embark on a war. (Funny, President Obama doesn't look NeoConish ...)

Two, apparently the threat to us was imminent-ish:

Airstrikes in Syria against the extremist Khorasan group were prompted by planning for an "imminent" terror attack on U.S. soil, the Pentagon said.

The terror attack itself wasn't imminent. But there was planning going on that once completed would have created an imminent threat. So we have that Gold standard for justifying our action, only slightly tarnished

Look, I have no problem killing jihadis. The only good one is a dead one. I'm just noting this evolution of "imminent" achieved by bathing it in the soothing balms of hope and change.

Three, and more important, is the Obama Doctrine going to be defined by adopting the Lexington Rule that I proposed when President Obama was just a gleam in the eyes of the Hope and Change crowd?

One of the problems with dealing with non-state actors is that they have enough power to defy the state government that has the responsibility for policing that piece of territory. So when a country goes after the non-state actor exercising the power of a state to wage war, the country runs afoul of the Westphalian assumptions because the country is attacking the formal territory of some state government even if that government does not control the territory. The Hizbollah War is a case in point.

So what if we modify our rules of recognition? Let's split our recognition. We recognize a government that holds a UN seat and borrows money and is responsible for its actions, as we do now. Right now it is all or nothing. You are recognized or not and if you do you are given credit for controlling everything within the lines on the map indicating your country. The government has legal responsibility to control their territory, but in practice there is no way to compel them to do so and yet international law prevents others from trying to install some level of control--or at least to destroy threats gathering in those areas beyond government control.

But as part of this recognition, we also declare the boundaries of these recognized governments that reflect effective control and not just legal fictions based on lines on maps. For most countries, we'd use the formal boundaries. Germany controls their territory. But not all countries are in this situation.

Where a country's government does not or cannot control all their territory, we should declare areas "free of control" by a national government and therefore deprive the non-state actor from hiding behind the nominal legal government when they are attacked on their de facto territory that the non-state actor rules.

We aren't attacking Syria because Syria doesn't control the territory that is technically within the boundaries of formal Syria that we are striking.

I take it our State Department will from now on be completely on board when Israel fights Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and refuse to claim Israel is at war with "Lebanon."

To be fair, hope and change have made many policies once forbidden now acceptable.

UPDATE: Here's the press conference on the strikes.