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Iraq war haunts Obama from launching attacks on Syria: Experts

Last Updated: Monday, September 2, 2013 - 22:52

Washington: Barack Obama`s decision to seek congressional authorisation for a military attack on Syria is in part his way of trying to fix a legal problem, experts say, citing the US President`s desire to distinguish himself from his predecessor.

The United Nations charter generally does not allow nations to attack other nations unless the attack is in self- defence or has the approval of the UN Security Council, neither of which is the case in Syria.

Thus, Obama`s decision to launch military strikes that would be "limited in duration and scope" is illegal under international law, CNN quoted legal experts as saying.

That`s a problem for a president, who has tried to distinguish his administration from that of President George W. Bush on the idea that he is bringing the United States back into compliance with international law, the report said.

As a senator, Obama opposed the 2003 Iraq war, and as president, he brought it to a close. But that did not erase the unpleasant memories of the false premise on which President Bush built a case for the US-led bombing campaign and ground invasion.

To help fix the legal problem, the Obama administration has asked the Congress to authorise the use of military force.

It`s a departure for Obama, who didn`t seek similar approval when the US joined a UN-sanctioned bombing campaign in Libya, the report said.

Congressional approval would not solve the problem with international law, a senior Obama administration official said, but it would enhance the legitimacy of military action.

Obama spoke of the humanitarian and moral reasons to respond to what the US says is clear proof that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s forces have used chemical weapons against civilians.

John Bellinger, former legal adviser to the US State Department and the National Security Council under President George W Bush, said Obama`s international law problem is of his own making.

"This particular president has boxed himself into a corner to distinguish himself from his predecessor," he said.

Of Obama`s planned Syria military strikes, Bellinger said, "even if it`s with the purest of motives, it makes him look hypocritical."

Robert Chesney, a University of Texas law professor, drew parallels to the Clinton administration`s bombing against Serbian forces to protect Kosovo. In that case, President Bill Clinton ignored the fact that a proposed military force authorisation was voted down in Congress.

Chesney said the problem is that international law doesn`t necessarily take into account events like those in Syria or Kosovo. In these cases the argument becomes, Chesney said, that "it was legitimate, but illegal (under international law). It was the good thing to do because of the moral reasons."

First Published: Monday, September 2, 2013 - 21:49

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