Reporters and pundits have noted how the new U.S. Iraq operation lacks much legal pretext, both internationally and domestically, for several weeks now. Which means it was time for crack reporter Eli Lake to write something up, too. With an extra heaping of hypocrisy.
Lake, a slightly credulous national security reporter who never met a war he didn't like until he met the Obama administration, has a big piece about how illegal this new anti-ISIS thing is, and how that's a terrible thing. I don't disagree that the lack of legal justifications is troubling... although Lake neglects to note that some members of Congress are totally ready to make this a legal war, in equally troubling fashion.
But in light of his past, it's a little peculiar to see Lake and his coworkers suddenly doing a full-court press against a Middle East war because it might violate international law. Here's how Lake laid out the international case in his own piece on Monday:
According to the U.N. Charter, "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Exceptions are granted for self-defense, or when the U.N. Security Council specifically authorizes it... But President Obama is not seeking any U.N. Security Council permission for this fight.
...Even Obama's Democratic allies in Congress are queasy about the legal justifications used so far for this war, even as they endorse its aims.
Why did that sound so familiar? Because in a UPI article on March 13, 2003, titled "Is a War Against Iraq Legal?" Lake used near identical language, plus now-discredited conjecturing about Iraqi WMDs, to argue in favor of the last Iraq War:
Article 2 of the charter forbids member states "from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Furthermore, the Charter states that force may only be used in imminent self-defense or in the case of specific approval from the Security Council...
On the facts of the case, it is hard to argue that Iraq has given up its weapons of mass destruction... With this kind of evidence, far from being an international outlaw, the United States would be a the [sic] defender of the entire institution of international [sic] should it lead a war to disarm Iraq.
...Now that the U.N.'s blessing appears doubtful, perhaps the biggest question is for the United Nations itself. As Glennon says, "The real question is not whether the charter would be violated, but whether the charter still represents international law."
In other words, Lake argued in 2003 that if the U.N. denied a legal justification for the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq, that was just an example of the poverty of international law. But today, Lake believes it's a bridge too far for the Obama administration to bypass the U.N. to bombard Islamists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps the last Iraq War's failures left Lake more generally skeptical of extra-legal military action than he was 11 years ago. Or perhaps there's another difference between the initiators of this Iraq war and the last one that I'm missing.
Either way, we're glad you're asking these questions now, Eli! If only you'd been that intrepid in 2003.