Senate Critics Question Legality Of Military Operation In Syria Critics in the Senate charge that, of all the foreign forces operating in Syria today, the Russians are on the most solid legal ground. Damascus has invited Russia to make its deployment, whereas neither Congress nor Syria has ever explicitly authorized any American military involvement there.
NPR logo

Senate Critics Question Legality Of Military Operation In Syria

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/476203970/476203971" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Senate Critics Question Legality Of Military Operation In Syria

Senate Critics Question Legality Of Military Operation In Syria

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/476203970/476203971" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Early this week in Germany, President Obama announced a big increase in U.S. ground forces in Syria, which currently number around 50.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: I've approved the deployment of up to 250 additional U.S. personnel in Syria, including special forces, to keep up this momentum.

MCEVERS: Today, Russia's deputy foreign minister called that a violation of sovereignty because it's being done without Syria's official permission. Russia's condemnation actually echoed criticism made hours earlier in the U.S. Senate. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday on the war against the Islamic State, John McCain, the panel's Republican chairman, playfully bestowed a new title on a fellow senator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN MCCAIN: Vice President Kaine.

WELNA: That would be Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who's been widely mentioned as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton. Kaine is a strong supporter of President Obama, but yesterday he lashed out against Obama's war on Islamic State.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM KAINE: I am deeply concerned about the legal basis for this war, both domestic and international.

WELNA: Kaine then compared the U.S. incursion into Syria with another military campaign: Russia's move into eastern Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAINE: It's a clear violation of international law because Ukraine has not invited them in. They are carrying out military operations in a sovereign nation without the support of that sovereign nation.

WELNA: But Kaine said it's another story when it comes to Russia's military move last fall into Syria.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAINE: I'm sorry to say this, but there is also international legal justification for Russian military activity in Syria.

WELNA: That's because, like it or not, Kaine said, Damascus welcomed Russia. He then put Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who was a witness at the hearing, on the spot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAINE: I am correct, am I not, that Syria has not invited us to conduct military operations within the nation of Syria?

ASH CARTER: You're correct.

WELNA: But Pentagon lawyers, Carter said, had assured him international law does back up U.S. actions in Syria. Besides, he added...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: If there's a difference between what we're doing in Syria and what the Russians did in Ukraine, we're trying to fight real terrorists. We're not trying to destabilize a stable situation, so we're trying to return order and decency, not the other way around.

WELNA: Kaine warned such thinking could lead to what he called a "wherever, whenever" war-making policy that could haunt the nation in the future and allow other nations to justify all kinds of undesirable actions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAINE: And basically, we've decided that if our motives are OK, we can incur into the sovereignty of another nation because we're doing the right thing. But then that takes away our ability to effectively criticize other nations that get into the sovereignty of other nations, as Russia is doing in the Ukraine.

WELNA: Kaine vowed he'll keep urging his colleagues to do what they have so far avoided doing - vote to authorize the war against the Islamic State. David Welna, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.