Faculty Commentary: Yale Law Professors Weigh in on Syria Debate

With a fervent debate raging over what actions should be taken against the Syrian government in the wake of a suspected chemical attack that killed more than 1,000 Syrians— including hundreds of children — Yale Law faculty offer their opinions and insights on a range of issues impacting the conversation. Below is a sampling of the most recent commentaries and interviews.

Is a Syria Strike Illegal?
September 4, 2013
The Brian Lehrer Show
Oona A. Hathaway '97 is interviewed about the legality of a US-led strike on Syria.

"I think that what we have to remember, is that if we act, if we break the Charter, that we are fundamental calling into question a basic rule of international law from which we benefit greatly and our allies benefit greatly, and we have to be extremely careful about putting that at risk."


On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn't Optional
September 3, 2013
The New York Times
By Oona A. Hathaway '97 and Scott Shapiro '90

"Mr. Obama cannot justify an attack on Syria based on any direct threat to the United States. Nor does there appear to be a direct threat to Turkey, a member of NATO, which might justify an assault based on collective self-defense. The sad fact is that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is visiting horrors, for now, mainly on his own citizens, though the conflict has caused two million refugees to flee to other countries."

The U.S. Shouldn't Break the Law by Attacking Syria
August 28, 2013
The Washington Post
By Oona A. Hathaway '97 and Scott Shapiro '90

"As sickening images of Syrian children apparently gassed by their own government fill U.S. newspapers, a deeply understandable desire is growing to make Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pay for his flagrant violations of law and basic human decency. But unleashing even limited military force without U.N. Security Council authorization would threaten the fundamental principles of the international legal system and, in so doing, put us all at risk.

Congress Should Examine Fine Print When Voting on Syria
September 4, 2013
Stephen L. Carter ’79 is interviewed about the big questions surrounding the duty of the U.S. to intervene in other countries' affairs.

"Once you decide to go down the road of using military force, the results are unpredictable. Sometimes you have to do it anyway. Sometimes you may have a moral or humanitarian obligation to intervene, but it's important to recognize the enormous risks that you take on...I actually do think that the killing in Syria has reached a point where there is a moral obligation on the part of the world to act. But the truth is, the world isn't going to act, and when we speak of an obligation on the part of the world, whether we're thinking of, say, Rwanda in the 1990s or what's going on in Syria today, if the United States doesn't do it, it's really not going to get done."

What Obama is Risking in Syria
September 2, 2013
Bloomberg News
By Stephen L. Carter ’79

"Obama’s situation is different. Congress may well adopt the resolution he seeks, but if members prove reluctant, the administration’s public agonizing over the question suggests that the president will not spend much political capital twisting arms. Should Congress fail to grant Obama the approval he seeks, he will still face exactly the same decision that he does now."

Bait and Switch
September 3, 2013
By Bruce Ackerman ’67

"President Barack Obama's turnaround on Syria comes as a surprise, given his recent shows of disdain for Congress. Only a couple of months ago, Edward Snowden's revelations forced Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to admit that he lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee -- a felony punishable by five years in prison. But the confession of a crime didn't prompt the president to replace Clapper with a fresh face who might credibly join with Congress in cleaning up the NSA scandal.

What Congressional Approval Won't Do: Trim Obama's Power of Make War Legal
September 3, 2013
The Atlantic
By Jack Balkin

"One of the most misleading metaphors in the discussion of President Obama’s Syria policy is that the president has “boxed himself in” or has “painted himself into a corner.” These metaphors treat a president’s available actions as if they were physical spaces and limits on action as if they were physical walls. Such metaphors would make sense only if we also stipulated that Obama has the power to snap his fingers and create a door or window wherever he likes. The Syria crisis has not created a new precedent for limiting presidential power. To the contrary, it has offered multiple opportunities for increasing it."