The following document has begun to circulate outside the government. It is said to have been developed within the Administration. I have not confirmed, however, whether it is a final, approved draft, who its authors are, and/or whether it will receive a more formal distribution.
The targeted U.S. military action against the Syrian military targets directly connected to the April 4 chemical weapons attack in Idlib was justified and legitimate as a measure to deter and prevent Syria’s illegal and unacceptable use of chemical weapons. The U.S. action was only taken after careful consideration of the following:
–Severe humanitarian distress, including the suffering caused by this and other previous unconscionable chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian military;
–Widespread violations of international law by the Syrian government, in particular the repeated use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in direct violation of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it acceded to in 2013, as well as UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2118, which was adopted by the Security Council under its Chapter VII authority, and which required Syria to cease using chemical weapons and eliminate its chemical weapons program in its entirety;
–Syria’s contempt for multiple UNSCRs including UNSCR 1540 and those seeking to give effect to UNSCR 2118, specifically UNSCRs 2209, 2235, 2314, and 2319.
The recognition in UNSCRs that the proliferation and use of chemical weapons is a serious threat to international security and a violation of international law;
–Syria’s indiscriminate use of such banned weapons to kill and inflict other horrific injuries on civilians in violation of the law of armed conflict, which tragically has been something that Syria has shown little respect for;
–Regional destabilization and international security concerns produced by the Syrian government’s actions, which include large and growing flows of refugees and the potential proliferation of chemical weapons;
–Widespread international condemnation of the Syrian government’s conduct, including its use of chemical weapons;
–A convincing body of reporting that the Syrian Government has committed widespread violations of international law during the conflict;
–The exhaustion of all reasonably available peaceful remedies before using force, including extensive and intensive diplomatic efforts both to end armed conflict in Syria and to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile;
–The U.S. use of force is necessary and proportionate to the aim of deterring and preventing the future use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government; and
–The U.S. efforts to minimize civilian casualties in the planning and execution of the strike.
[UPDATE: Charlie Savage reports that it is press guidance that has been provided to Administration spokespeople. Not yet clear whether it is based upon any formal legal advice.]
Damn. Upstaged by another leak. I smell a Trump tantrum coming on.
That account does not, however, explain why the United States can (or should) lawfully respond with a use of force unilaterally, without Security Council approval or even (as in Kosovo 1999) the ex ante approval of a broad set of allies and states within the region, and to do so in apparent breach of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter. [...] The document does not even mention the Charter, nor suggest that the United States has not violated it. [...] Instead, it sounds more in the register of an explanation of why President Trump decided to put the U.S. in breach of the Charter — although, oddly, it does not even mention that the Russian veto would preclude UNSC action, a factor that presumably would be central to any such attempted justification.
The strikes against Syria [...] were unilateral (in the sense of being done by the U.S. alone), and they violated the Charter, a treaty largely drafted and championed by the United States and to which every state in the world has agreed.