The international legal basis for US airstrikes in Iraq centered around Iraq’s government, such as it is, requesting aid in the war against ISIS. The legal basis for the Syria war is the same.
Syria didn’t request US aid in the war, of course, but Iraq did, and US officials are arguing that’s just as good. The official statement to the UN on the war was that Iraq needed it.
US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power argued that the UN Charter gives the right to use force for “self-defense” without the permission of the nation being struck or the UN Security Council.
The argument, then, is to “self-defense,” but without the self part, and that the US war is self-defense for Iraq, but being carried out by the US, and several nations Iraq doesn’t particularly like to begin with.
How this will hold up in the international court of public opinion remains to be seen, though the practical matter is that with its veto on the Security Council the US can basically launch wars with impunity.
The bigger legal question, rather, is the domestic one, as the war seems to be designed to violate the US War Powers Act. Again, though, the House has put the law on hold to avoid uncomfortable pre-election votes on war.
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