US' al-Tanf base violating Syrian sovereignty, intl. law

TEHRAN, Jul. 26 (MNA) – Pointing to harassment of a Mahan airliner by US warplanes, an American academic notes that the US’ establishment of the al-Tanf military base in Syria is a violation of the country’s sovereignty as well as international law.

“The international reader must understand that one of the illegal US military bases is located in the al-Tanf area of Syria, and since locating there in 2016, the US has declared a “de-conflict zone” that stretches 55 miles in all directions, thus claiming this airspace as under the control of the United States.  In short, the US is claiming a piece of Syria sovereign territory as its own, a blatant and clear violation of international law.”  a full professor of political science at Bluefield State College in West Virginia's Bluefield, Colin S. Cavell, told Mehr News Agency on Sunday. 

His remarks come in reaction to the recent harassment of an Iranian airliner by US warplanes over the Syrian sky on Thursday. The US' provocation has received a firm reaction from Iran as officials have said they will follow-up on the issue at the international bodies. 

To shed more light on the issue, we reached out to Professor Cavell and below, is the full text of the interview: 

The recent harassing of an Iranian passenger plane by US warplanes brings to mind one fundamental question: Is US presence in Syria legitimate, since Damascus considers US forces as occupiers?

 In an op-ed article in the July 24, 2020 Los Angeles Times entitled “Op-Ed: Trump’s troops in Portland are a constitutional outrage,” Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, wrote:

One of the most basic principles of our system of law is that for the federal government, including the president, to take an action, there must be constitutional and statutory authority. In light of this, what can and can’t the president do when it comes to law enforcement in cities?  (Chemerinsky, July 24, 2020).

And while Trump tramples on the US Constitution at home, so, too, overseas is Trump flouting international law by continuing to deploy US troops in Syria, a country that has never invited the US into.

And thus we come to the July 23, 2020 incident over Lebanese airspace where either one or several US F-15 jet fighters intercepted and harassed an Iranian passenger plane according to the pilot and passengers on the Iranian plane forcing it to descend abruptly and injuring three passengers in the process, whom had to be taken to hospital upon landing in Beirut.  The Mahan Air Flight 1152 (an Airbus A310 airliner) had taken off from Iran’s capital of Tehran headed to the Lebanese capital of Beirut, a regular flight.

In short, the US is claiming a piece of Syria sovereign territory as its own, a blatant and clear violation of international law.

At this point, however, the international reader must understand that one of the illegal US military bases is located in the al-Tanf area of Syria, and since locating there in 2016, the US has declared a “de-conflict zone” that stretches 55 miles in all directions, thus claiming this airspace as under the control of the United States.  In short, the US is claiming a piece of Syria sovereign territory as its own, a blatant and clear violation of international law.

US Central Command, one of seven American world-wide regional combatant commands, is responsible, as per US hegemonic policy, for policing the Middle East, Egypt, Central and parts of South Asia.  On the day after the incident, CENTCOM claimed that only one single F-15 had made a “visual inspection” of the Iranian passenger plane “in accordance with international standards” so as to ensure the safety of US coalition forces at the al-Tanf military base.  CENTCOM added that the F-15 jet fighter flew at “a safe distance of approximately 1,000 meters” [i.e. 1,094 yards] from the Iranian passenger plane.


Why is US basically keeping its forces in Syria? Can it be for the country’s oil? Or are there any other reasons?

The United States first introduced US troops into the sovereign country of Syria in September of 2014 under the pretext that they were fighting the Daesh/ISIS terrorist forces.  As is well-known now, the entire US intervention was staged and planned beforehand by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with the cooperation of Saudi, Israeli, and other intelligence agencies under an operation called Timber Sycamore.  The program sought to oust elected Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and replace him with a willing puppet in order to build an oil pipeline across Syria from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Turkey to transit lines supplying Europe.  However, because Syria had not declared war on neither the United States nor any other country, the US had to create a pretext for entering Syria with military force utilizing the international law emerging norm of “humanitarian intervention” which has been pushed by the United States for years under the banner of “Responsibility To Protect” or “R2P” for short.  As Wing Commander J.E. Linter notes:

Humanitarian intervention is defined here as ‘the threat or use of force across State borders by a State (or group of States) aimed at preventing or ending widespread and grave violations of the fundamental human rights of individuals other than its own citizens, without the permission of the State within whose territory force is applied’ (Linter, 2006).

In other words, so-called “humanitarian intervention” represents a direct violation of the principal of state sovereignty which originated with the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War.  Sovereignty is another word for the concept of supreme authority.  With regards to states in the modern world, a sovereign state is said to have exclusive authority over the territorial boundaries of the state as well as all that exists on, under, and above its boundaries.

A convoy of U.S. armored vehicles patrols the northeastern Syrian town of Qahtaniyah at the border with Turkey on Oct. 31, 2019. DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP

In other words, so-called “humanitarian intervention” represents a direct violation of the principal of state sovereignty.

Thus, supplanting the basic principal of state sovereignty undermines the entire structure of international relations as it has existed for the past 372 years.  And while some will argue that this state-centric system is antiquated in today’s world where pandemics, natural disasters, and nuclear incidents do not respect state boundaries, most of the world is not willing to accept obvious imperialist intervention creeping into a state under the pretext of R2P.

And US intervention into Syria in September of 2014 was just this sort of intervention, as has been so many of US interventions in its history.  The justifiable fear of most international law scholars and political scientists is that such an intervention into another country without their express permission will only lead to continuous and prolonged war, just as has happened in Syria since 2014.  Such imbroglios only serve to reinforce the doubt or outright opposition of opponents to this so-called emerging norm.  As Eaton writes:

The responsibility to protect, from its recent nativity in the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), is the latest round in an old debate pitting the principle of nonintervention in the internal affairs of states against allowing such intervention to prevent gross and systematic violations of human rights. Advocates for the concept see it as an important new commitment by the international community, injecting new meaning into the tragically threadbare promise to never again allow mass atrocities to occur unchallenged. ICISS offered the concept of responsibility to protect as a new way to confront these calamities that addressed the concerns of some nations that humanitarian intervention was merely a license to invade. This idea made its way in four short years from the 2001 ICISS Report into the 2005 Summit Outcome Document (Summit Outcome), unanimously adopted by the Sixtieth Session of the U.N. General Assembly. A frequently repeated phrase in the commentary on responsibility to protect is that it is an "emerging norm," representing the coalescence of a new international consensus around the duties and powers of the international community in confronting massive human rights violations. While many advocates and commentators have been cautious on this subject, one interpretation is that, as an "emerging norm," responsibility to protect is somewhere on the path to becoming customary international law. “[W]ith the weight behind it of a unanimous General Assembly resolution at head of state and government level, the responsibility to protect can already be properly described as a new international norm: a new standard of behavior . . . for every state” (Eaton, 2011).

But just because one of the US allies declares that humanitarian intervention is already accepted as an international norm does not make it so.  Indeed, every action the US has taken in the past 20 years has most states decrying this so-called norm as merely a fig-leaf for imperial intervention.

Most American citizens have no idea that the US was acting illegally by intervening into Syria in 2014.

And because of the novelty of this concept and usage in US foreign policy, most American citizens have no idea that the US was acting illegally by intervening into Syria in 2014 and, as well, have no idea that their country continues to act contrary and against international law by keeping US troops and military bases in Syria despite the elected government of Syria repeatedly asking the US to GO HOME.

But here, the international observer must first understand that US foreign policy is conducted by graduates of elite universities who share the sentiment of the US ruling class, and, since the US is the foremost capitalist country in the world today and the center of western imperialism, they are willingly recruited to support the aims of such a Pax Americana [the American imperial realm] under the guise of the US’s self-characterization of itself as having the unique character of being the “indispensable nation”, which is only a modernized version of nineteenth century “white man’s burden” to control the unruly barbarians in the world who threaten life-affirming values, sensibilities, literature, art, and advanced culture, which effectively boils down to capitalism operated and controlled from the United States as the self-designated leader of the “free world”.

Iran has time and again shown that it enjoys the will to respond to its enemies' hostile measures. How do you assess Tehran's probable response?

The Iranian government is cognizant of continuous US belligerence, its unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on May 18, 2018, its January 3, 2020 assassination of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and remembers when the US Navy cruiser USS Vincennes shot down Iran Airflight 655 on July 3, 1988 killing all 290 passengers aboard, all actions in violation of international law.  Iranian officials are also aware that US President Donald J. Trump is up for reelection on November 3 of this year of 2020 and that the US is in control of the world’s largest nuclear stockpile and has troops on the ground throughout the world on land, air, and sea patrol.  And, given that the US has once before overthrown its elected government, the Iranian people are determined to never allow this to happen again.  As a political scientist, I thus suspect that Iranian military strategists will follow the precepts outlined by the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu in his The Art of War to counter Trump’s strategy as depicted in The Art of the Deal.

Some observers believe that the US administration is seeking to invoke a war with Iran prior to Presidential elections in November so as to use this card to win the election. What’s your take on this?

 If Trump deems bellicosity towards Iran will ensure his reelection, he will foment it.

President Donald J. Trump has since his 2016 victory indicated that he is willing to flout established social norms, moral values, societal expectations, laws—both domestic and international—in order to advance his own personal interests, and the majority of the US capitalist class including the mainstream media have allowed him to get away with this behavior, because they deem that someone like Trump will provide the US ruling class with time to discern how to reassert US dominance in a world where US hegemony is rapidly dissipating.  If he deems bellicosity towards Iran will ensure his reelection, he will foment it.  If he deems provoking Iran with fifth column subversives or inserting insurgents into Iran to stoke instability through fires, bombings, explosions, and sewing civil discord, he will do it.  If he is convinced that only a war abroad will rally a sufficient number of voters to put him in as president for another four years, then the American people have already been psychologically prepared for a war with Iran.

Do you think there will ever be an end to the violations of international law by the US?

As long as the United States maintains a class-divided system, which capitalism is, the country as a whole will never enjoy peace.  Surely, the class that benefits from this societal division will continue to prosper and live in luxury so long as its working class remains dormant and controlled and willing to support the international wars and interventions of its ruling class, but should this working class ever wake up to the real chains that bind them in poverty and powerlessness, then the eyes wide shut of US officials may be forced to open.

Interview by Mohammad Ali Haqshenas


Dr. Cavell is a tenured Full Professor of Political Science at Bluefield State College in Bluefield, West Virginia, and also an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Holyoke Community College in Holyoke, Massachusetts. “Exporting 'Made in America' Democracy: The National Endowment for Democracy & US Foreign Policy” is the title of a book written by the American professor back in 2002.


Bibliography

Chemerinsky, Erwin.  July 24, 2020.  “Op-Ed: Trump’s troops in Portland are a constitutional outrage.”  Los Angeles, CA:  Los Angeles Times.
[https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-07-24/donald-trump-portland-border-patrol-constitution].

Eaton, Jonah.  2011.  “An Emerging Norm - Determining the Meaning and Legal Status of the Responsibility to Protect.”  Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 32, Issue 4.  [https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjil/vol32/iss4/4/].

J.E. Linter, Wing Commander RAF.  August 8, 2006.  “Humanitarian Intervention: Legitimising the Illegal?”  Journal of Defence Studies, Vol. 5, 2005, Issue 2.  Taylor & Francis Online.
[https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14702430500336459].

“Timber Sycamore.”  Wikipedia.  Sacramento, CA:  Published online by the Wikimedia Foundation..  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timber_Sycamore].

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