Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law where she taught for 25 years. The former president of the National Lawyers Guild and criminal defense attorney is a legal scholar, political analyst and social critic who writes books and articles, makes media appearances and lectures throughout the world about human rights and U.S. foreign policy. She has testified before Congress and debated the legality of the war in Afghanistan at the prestigious Oxford Union. Her blogs appear on Huffington Post and she has provided commentary for CBS News, BBC, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, NPR and Pacifica Radio.
In an internal “dissent channel cable,” 51 State Department officers called for “targeted military strikes” against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, a proposal that President Barack Obama has thus far resisted. However, were he to accept the cable’s advice, he would risk a dangerous – possibly catastrophic – confrontation with Russia. And, such a use of military force in Syria would violate U.S. and international law.
While the cable decries “the Russian and Iranian governments’ cynical and destabilizing deployment of significant military power to bolster the Assad regime,” the cable calls for the United States to protect and empower “the moderate Syrian opposition,” seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.
However, Assad’s government is the only legitimate government in Syria and, as the sovereign, has the legal right to seek international support as it has from Russia and Iran. There is no such legal right for the United States and other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to arm Syrian rebels to attack Assad’s government.