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Former Bush official: Syria resolution could authorize attack on Iran and Lebanon

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Former Bush official Jack Goldsmith: (Photo: U.S. Naval War College/Wikimedia Commons)

Former Bush official Jack Goldsmith: (Photo: U.S. Naval War College/Wikimedia Commons)

A former legal official from the Bush administration has warned that the text of President Barack Obama’s resolution authorizing the use of military force on Syria is so broad that it could justify attacks on Iran and Lebanon. Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law professor who resigned from the Bush administration over its executive overreach, wrote today in Lawfare that “the proposed AUMF focuses on Syrian WMD but is otherwise very broad” and that it “does not contain specific limits on targets.”

After Obama’s Rose Garden speech yesterday, he sent Congress the text of his proposed resolution on striking Syria in response to the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta. While Congress could modify the resolution, as it stands it’s a document authorizing the use of force on a broad array of targets and could justify deeper U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. Here’s more of Goldsmith’s analysis:

(1) Does the proposed AUMF authorize the President to take sides in the Syrian Civil War, or to attack Syrian rebels associated with al Qaeda, or to remove Assad from power?  Yes, as long as the President determines that any of these entities has a (mere) connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and that the use of force against one of them would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the U.S. or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons.  It is very easy to imagine the President making such determinations with regard to Assad or one or more of the rebel groups.

(2) Does the proposed AUMF authorize the President to use force against Iran or Hezbollah, in Iran or Lebanon?  Again, yes, as long as the President determines that Iran or Hezbollah has a (mere) a connection to the use of WMD in the Syrian civil war, and the use of force against Iran or Hezbollah would prevent or deter the use or proliferation of WMD within, or to and from, Syria, or protect the U.S. or its allies (e.g. Israel) against the (mere) threat posed by those weapons.  Again, very easy to imagine.

It brings to mind the AUMF passed in the aftermath of September 11. While that resolution directly concerned Al Qaeda and the Taliban, it was later broadened to justify drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia–even on targets that were clearly not part of Al Qaeda.

The Obama administration has made its case for a strike on Syria by emphasizing that it would be a limited attack. “This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground. Instead, our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope,” the president said yesterday. 

But the consequences of a strike on Syria are unpredictable, as the International Crisis Group said today in a statement cautioning against the use of military force and pressing for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. Any U.S. military action on Syria increases the chance for a regional escalation of the conflict.

While escalation is not guaranteed–the macho statements from Iran are likely bluster– injecting more firepower into a brutal civil war could easily spiral out of control. If Obama gets his Syria resolution passed, he will have the political backing to embroil America in another Middle Eastern war if the Syria conflagration spreads as a result of a U.S. strike.

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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31 Responses

  1. Walid
    September 1, 2013, 2:51 pm

    “Syria resolution could authorize attack on Iran and Lebanon”

    Cela va sans dire. I’ve had that on my mind for a few days.

    • seafoid
      September 1, 2013, 3:09 pm

      Say the bots attack Lebanon and take out Iran.
      How would they propose to deal with an outside world with over 1 bn Muslims ?

      Zionism is insane.

      • Abierno
        September 1, 2013, 5:50 pm

        The bots cannot address the issue of Iran without starting World War III.
        Phil is right about oil/gas based geopolitics. Thanks to our Israel blinkered foreign policy, the Russians have/are building a major presence in the Middle East. Thanks to bailing in from the EU, converting Russian oligarch funds to shares, the Russians own the Bank of Cypress, which in conjunction with their restructuring of billion dollar loans gives them a port, an airfield and most probably, first refusal for Russian oil companies in the development of the Aphrodite oil field off Cypress. If
        Assad holds Syria, Lebanon stabilizes and Iran continues to turn east
        thanks to US sanctions., oil and gas will move east to India, China et al
        and Russian dominance of the European gas market will continue. Netanyahu is not concerned about “security” nor is the US. His concern is logistics and markets for his oil and gas finds having offended/threatened war with countries with which he badly needed alliances. Neither Russia nor China will allow their interests/assets in the Middle East to be destroyed by the US on behalf of Israel. Finally the fig leaf of “humanitarian concern” from 1) the country which has used white phosphorus, depleted uranium, dum dum bullets and bullets which on contact split into pieces of shrapnel tearing the victim apart; which is exporting its “colored” refugees to Uganda; which is expelling its own Bedouin citizens from the Negev; which maintains a belligerent occupation and 2) the us, which has with the coalition of the blind created failed states (Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt?) with literally hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded is simply not credible beyond the inner sanctum of this administration. As for Israel’s security, as they have been told by virtually every sane diplomat – they need to use diplomacy, not nuclear threats and gun boats.

  2. American
    September 1, 2013, 2:54 pm

    ““This would not be an open-ended intervention. We would not put boots on the ground”

    I am sick of the ‘not put boots on the ground’ meme… if no boots on the ground makes it not a war…….as if even putting boots on the ground if this spreads means we are going to win anything against Syria or Iran any more than having ‘boots on the ground’ won us Iraq—-which we in f’ing fact lost…….a trillon dollars and x number of dead bodies later.

  3. bilal a
    bilal a
    September 1, 2013, 3:26 pm

    Yes only through this resolution can all the players sip at the trough, BPShell-Aramco interests are aligned with Raytheon

    Study Group on the Arms Trade and the Transnationalization of the Defense Industry: Economic versus Security Drivers

    Look at the Board of the European Defense consotia EADS:
    Daamler, Northrop, Deutsche Bank, ArcelorMittal, anglo american plc, bnp ..
    Vertically and Horizontally Integrated Oil Weapons Cartel

  4. kalithea
    September 1, 2013, 3:30 pm

    To everyone who visits here:

    Call your representatives!!! Ask everyone you know to call! Organize and take to the streets!

    Stop this CARTE BLANCHE RESOLUTION for WAR!!! For once as Americans, doooooooo something! This is waaaaay worse than Iraq – get your butts off your couches and fight this for God’s sakes!!!

  5. Taxi
    September 1, 2013, 4:02 pm

    “While escalation is not guaranteed–the macho statements from Iran are likely bluster– injecting more firepower into a brutal civil war could easily spiral out of control.”

    It may be a “macho” statement, but you’d better believe they mean it. Escalation IS guaranteed, Alex. Hizbollah’s silence throughout the ‘threat-attack’ for the past two weeks, put the heebeejeebeez in the israelis. The D.C. ziobots couldn’t take the israeli distress no more and rushed Feldman to Iran several days ago, specifically to get an answer from Iran on what Iran may do the morning after an attack on Syria. Apparently, the Iranian response was: “If Syria asks us for help, then we will help; and if Syria doesn’t ask for our help, then we will respect this”. Feldman then asked what Hizbollah would do about an attack on Syria, and the Iranians said: “Hizbollah’s weapons are not pointing at Syria”.

    Masters of ambiguity, indeed. We all know that Syria will need immense help if attacked by USA from without, while being simultaneously attacked from within by the takfiri terrorist army. And. We all know where Hizbollah’s arsenal is pointing at.

    I’ve also heard it from a couple of reliable sources that israeli intelligence gathering was indicating that Hizbollah’s silent and coiled stance, is offensive in character. Not defensive, but offensive. Israeli intelligence and political eggheads took these “macho” threats like a sudden reality slap in the face, Alex: they went from loudly supporting an attack to meekly declaring some kinda twisted neutrality – all this within a handful of days. Now how often do you see this kind of vacillation in behavior from israel during a dangerous crisis right there at its border? And did you by any chance see any footage of the fear-hysteria that gripped israel’s citizenry throughout the ‘threat attack’ dramarama?

    Alex, there IS a ‘balance of terror’ clear and apparent now in the Levant. For those who didn’t believe it’s been there since 2006, think again.

    A clear price has been set for any USA attack on any part of the Levant: and that penalty is an immediate and merciless attack on israel. They’re ready to go through with it from here on, obviously, and they’re ready to take the hits back – their countries are already war zones in ruin, their people are already dying anyway: therefore israel has more to lose. It’s as simple as that.

    I think them Levantians were ahead of the game and drew a sudden red line for Obama and Netanyahu – and O and N gasped and stepped back.

    The natives of the Levant, for sure, won this round.

  6. Les
    September 1, 2013, 4:15 pm

    As also noted by MJRosenberg.
    Obama: Congress Must Approve Syria Raid So We Can Bomb Iran For Netanyahu
    1 Sep
    The New York Times has a pretty shocking revelation on page one today. White House correspondent Mark Landler reveals (after interviewing unnamed senior Obama aides) that the “most compelling ” reason the President is seeking Congressional authorization to strike Syria may be this:

    …acting alone would undercut him if in the next three years he needed Congressional authority for his next military confrontation in the Middle East, perhaps with Iran.

    If he made the decision to strike Syria without Congress now, he said, would he get Congress when he really needed it?

    In other words, attacking Syria now makes it possible to attack Iran later.

    And there is this from POLITICO: White House To Congress: Help Protect Israel

    The Obama administration is using a time-tested pitch to get Congress to back military strikes in Syria: It will help protect Israel. Israel’s enemies, including Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah, could be emboldened if Congress fails to approve action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, senior administration officials said Saturday.

    On the one hand, revealing this motivation will be a political plus with Congress which, following AIPAC (and the donors it directs), repeatedly and loudly declares that if Iran does not capitulate to Netanyahu’s demands, it must be bombed. Telling AIPAC and Netanyahu that Congressional authorization for bombing Syria is a prerequisite for bombing Iran is a sure way to get the lobby to get its forces in line for a “yes” vote.

    On the other hand, Obama signals to the American public at large that attacking Syria could turn out to be considerably larger than a single surgical strike. It could be the prelude to an infinitely larger war.

    It is doubtful that public opinion will accept this rationale. More likely, it will lead to intense pressure from the grassroots to defeat the Syrian authorization. Americans (in)famously supported a “war to end all wars.” But supporting a war to start more wars seems unlikely.

    Stopping a war with Syria is apparently the best way to prevent war with Iran. Congress needs to vote “no.”

  7. gingershot
    September 1, 2013, 4:32 pm

    The Neocons will do everything they can to expand any kind of strike into Syria into a war with Iran

    McCain and Graham must be drooling over it – McCain is all over the airwaves demanding regime change in Syria and to help his FSA/Al Qaeda Syria buddies ‘win’

  8. just
    September 1, 2013, 4:52 pm

    The AUMF is a disgraceful piece of caca.

    And the idea that the US could strike sovereign nations based on the whim of a mere mortal makes me retch. It is against International and Humanitarian law. It will make us more of a pariah than we already are. It is not emblematic of Democracy. It is Fascist and Totalitarian and Terroristic.

    Most especially, it is the most hypocritical thing we could DO! It will no longer be America.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      September 1, 2013, 5:55 pm

      “Most especially, it is the most hypocritical thing we could DO! It will no longer be America.”

      It hasn’t been “America” in a long, long time. One of the horrible outcomes of the Allied victory in the Second World War was a society as twisted as that of the United States becoming a superpower.

  9. James Canning
    James Canning
    September 1, 2013, 6:34 pm

    Bravo, International Crisis Group for again calling for peace conference on Syria.

  10. DICKERSON3870
    September 1, 2013, 8:05 pm

    RE: “Syria resolution could authorize attack on Iran and Lebanon”


    ● FROM
    To email Obama, your senators and representative, expressing opposition to an attack on Syria, click HERE.

  11. Justpassingby
    September 2, 2013, 2:41 am

    This is what AIPAC and Israel wants, dont let them do it.

  12. Citizen
    September 2, 2013, 7:35 am

    It’s really interesting that Obama talked up his strike as a very tailored, most minimal one; the consensus was it was to be at most two days of surgical strikes at Syrian regime military buildings and air force grounds. But the Syria resolution he turned over to Congress is as broad as can be, authorizing all executive choice with few specifics, or curbs of any sort. He did say he didn’t object to Congress changing the words comprising his suggested grant of power to him, but why didn’t he, to be consistent with his original expressed intent, submit a resolution that was very narrowly tailored? I wonder who he discussed the wording with… was he doing a bait and switch, or did whomever he consulted with persuade him to broaden his request to the max?

  13. seafoid
    September 2, 2013, 9:22 am

    Former disco bouncer Lieberman weighs in, in his unique intellectual style

    ““We face the other half of the world, which relates to these events only to increase terror and bloodshed,” Lieberman said. “The Iranians are determinedly exploiting the situation that’s been created and are continuing with their nuclear program. There isn’t a single country coping with so many threats as the State of Israel.”
    Lieberman also criticized the “excessive involvement” of the international community in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    “We don’t need a babysitter,” he said. “Let us deal with the problem ourselves. The UN Security Council is a paralyzed body that can’t resolve any international problem. Why this hyperactivity specifically with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute?
    “There is no logical explanation other than that the international community, which has failed to resolve any other dispute, no matter on which continent, feels it has to compensate itself here in particular. This hyperactivity includes the involvement of the Quartet, the EU and their various envoys. This isn’t bringing the solution any closer,” continued Lieberman. “

    • eljay
      September 2, 2013, 9:37 am

      >> ” … There isn’t a single country coping with so many threats as the State of Israel.”

      Once again, a Zio-supremacist glosses over the fact that many (most? all?) of the threats the supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel has to cope with are directly related to its on-going refusal:
      – to halt its occupation and colonization of Palestine immediately and completely;
      – to withdraw to within its / Partition borders;
      – to agree to be held accountable for its the (war) crimes it has committed and continues to commit;
      – to honour its obligations under international law; and
      – to offer to enter into sincere negotiations for a just and mutually-beneficial peace.

      • seafoid
        September 2, 2013, 11:09 am

        Those threats again :

        1 International law
        2 Our shared humanity
        3 Peace
        4 Hasbara death
        5 Dick and Jane wake up

      • American
        September 2, 2013, 12:47 pm

        @ seafoid

        Dont forget the Money, Money,Money.

        Happy Labor Day laboring US suckers….no money to protect your public schools from crazed shooters.

        Jewish institutions awarded $9 million in federal security grants
        September 1, 2013 12:23pm

        WASHINGTON (JTA) – Some 90 percent of the $10 million in funding announced by the Department of Homeland Security to help nonprofit organizations protect themselves from terrorism went to Jewish institutions.

        The total amount of grants, announced Aug. 29, is slightly up from last year’s $9.7 million.

        “The Department of Homeland Security has demonstrated a great commitment to protecting at-risk communities,” said Michael Siegal, chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s board of trustees.

        The Jewish Federations of North America and the Orthodox Union were instrumental in making sure the Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant program was continued.”

      • just
        September 2, 2013, 5:29 pm

        So, no regular Americans get those grants.

        What about Muslim institutions? Black institutions? Hispanic institutions?

        PS– the Department of Homeland Security is a pathetic joke. Just as the War on Terror is an abomination………..

        Happy Labor Day indeed. Thanks American.

      • James Canning
        James Canning
        September 2, 2013, 2:10 pm

        Israel could have accepted 2002 Saudi peace plan, with a few tweaks. 1967 borders. Next to no right of return. Etc.

    • James Canning
      James Canning
      September 2, 2013, 2:19 pm

      Avigdor Lieberman fails to grasp the fact Israel needs much more international involvement in its illegal colonisation programme in the West Bank.

  14. Citizen
    September 2, 2013, 10:10 am

    US air craft carrier is now in the Red Sea, along with two more ships additional to the five already off the Syrian coast.

  15. annie
    September 2, 2013, 10:55 am

    Members of Congress in both parties said Sunday they would not be able to support the current draft of a resolution authorizing President Obama to launch a military strike against Syria, and top Democrats said it will have to be rewritten to limit the president’s authority.

    • American
      September 2, 2013, 12:33 pm

      Not to throw cold water on this but the key word there is “current draft”.

      You can be sure that the same Israel whores in congress listed here…..…….that
      lined up wth AIPAC on Hagel and all the other bills in it’s 2013 Agenda will line up on bombing Syria also.

      They will make public statements about how they’ve been ‘assured’ that bombing a few sites will not lead to further involvement and then vote to allow Obama to ‘do the moral thing’.

      This is about ‘regime change’ regardless of the spin —-degrading Assad’s weapons stores is giving the rebels an advantage–total no brainer.

  16. crone
    September 3, 2013, 12:39 am

    here is Nick Noe’s prediction of the Syria/Hezbollah response:

    Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region
    Almost all the myths of the past 2.5 years of the war in Syria have now fallen – so you have a good idea about the response to the US-led attack

    In the beginning, despite warnings from many of us actually in the Middle East and closer to the actors involved, it was said that:

    1) Russia would not really back Assad – that myth fell, as expected.

    2) That Hizbullah would not get involved – that myth fell over time, as the existential nature of this conflict was revealed, as expected. I remember being chided on this at my LSE talk and by leading oppositionists last fall!

    Listen to the podcast debate here:

    3) That Hizbullah was a paper tiger – that myth fell in Qusayr – although one could only have looked at the July 2006 War to know this since a force – hizbullah – essentially beat the 4th strongest army in the world – Israel – to a standstill.

    4) That Assad would not go to extreme levels of violence to protect the regime – anyone who lived in syria and knew the regime – and hizbullah knew this VERY well – knows how cruel the regime has always been.

    5) That Assad would fall quickly or at some reasonable point – this myth fell as people realized that the Resistance Axis architecture is deep and enduring and will not fall easily – even via decapitation as per the july 2012 assassinations.

    6) That Syria did not have WMDS – I remember being chided on this at a talk in paris at AUP.

    7) That the “samson” option was never possible – and that Assad or others would never introduce such weapons in the field… well they got introduced as expected when the whole edifice of everyone fighting in syria is degrading into hell.

    8) That the US and allies would rapidly intervene – well it took some prodding, BUT the US congress may yet stand in the way….

    9) That violent jihadists would not control the field – that myth is over

    10) And my favorite – that if we had only attacked assad earlier, the outcome would have been just great – no jihadists, the regime falls, a nice sunni replaces him, iran and hizbullah are screwed, israel is unscathed and liberal feminists rule in Damascus, although they still believe in an acceptable form of “market socialism.”

    BUT THE BEST MYTH has yet to fall – WHAT WILL HIZBULLAH AND IRAN DO in response to a strike?

    The myth circulating now is the SAME, essential root from all the above: they are paper tigers and its better to act decisively and with great force and everything will be ok… or at least better than it is now.

    Then you read… you talk to the actors, reflect on conversations with the actors and read what THEY have said and are saying. (translated by

    These bits of the information war are NOT likely to be mere posturing.

    The likely response is from WITHIN SYRIAN lands into Israel – and Israel will be forced to decide on escalation and escalation into Lebanon also.

    This will be a fatal mistake – but the Israelis are likely to take the step and the Amerians are unwittingly or not paving the way for this liklihood.

    A last Myth that will probably fall in this scene – That israel is well prepared in terms of missile defence and the homefront to adequately withstand the escalation.

    • Taxi
      September 3, 2013, 11:44 pm

      The israelis don’t stand a chance in a multi-directional missile war. And it’s coming their way 100%.

      Maybe all them extra planes that the Saudi king has can help airlift israelis out of occupied Palestine.

      Brzezinski: “It will simply do to Israel what some of the wars have done to us on a smaller scale. Attrite it, tire it, fatigue it, demoralize it, cause emigration of the best and the first, and then some sort of cataclysm at the end which cannot be predicted at this stage because we don’t know who will have what by when. And after all, Iran is next door. It might have some nuclear capability. Suppose the Israelis knock it off. What about Pakistan and others? The notion that one can control a region from a very strong and motivated country, but of only six million people, is simply a wild dream.”

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