There are precious few identifiable bases for American involvement in the Libyan civil war. Muammar Gaddafi is a brutal, repressive dictator, but how does his mistreatment of Libyans affect the vital interests of the United States, Americans’ lives, liberty, and property? The Obama Administration has offered no such basis for intervention. He is not acting to defend Americans’ interests, he is acting to assert America’s role as a global policeman and make himself the world’s officer in charge. He has assumed the extra-constitutional role of Guardian of the Libyan people. That role is not contemplated by the American Constitution. It befits not a President of the United States but an Emperor.
In Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, Congress is given the exclusive power “to declare war.” In Article II, Section 2, the President is Commander in Chief of the armed forces. In this system, Congress must first authorize an act of war by the United States against a foreign power. While as Commander in Chief the President has been given broad leeway to defend Americans’ lives, liberty, and property without a formal declaration of war, in the absence of such a threat, only Congress has the constitutional power to declare war against a foreign nation. Rather than make his case for war to Congress, President Obama made it to the United Nations. When certain members of the Security Council favored the action (and the others—Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Russia--agreed to abstain from voting), Obama obtained UN Resolution 1973, permitting member states to employ “all necessary measures” to subdue violence in Libya. That resolution is of no legal force or effect in the United States, yet President Obama has invoked it as if it is the supreme law. It is his only justification for dispatching America’s war fighters. In other words, President Obama viewed the assent of the United Nations, and not of the Congress of the United States, as both necessary and sufficient for the Chief Executive to go to war. That sets a dangerous precedent in violation of Article I, Section 8, Clause 11. It presumes the authority of the U.N. Security Council superior to that of the Congress of the United States in matters of war.
The leap into Libya is flawed not only because it proceeds in violation of the Constitution but also because it is strategically ill-conceived. In the build-up to intervention in the second Gulf War, President George W. Bush endeavored mightily to paint Saddam Hussein as a global threat. The never found weapons of mass destruction were convenient grounds because they could transform a regional menace into a global one, justifying worldwide involvement to wrench him from power. Those never found weapons could also justify a defensive reaction, one that arguably did not require a declaration of war under the Constitution. Unlike the first Gulf War, the second had no clearly defined objectives and no clear exit strategy. George W. adopted a grandiose, and historically contradicted, vision of a Jeffersonian democracy for Iraq. He hoped to impose that Western style democracy on a nation that had always known either theocratic or secular dictatorships. The regime that remains, propped up by heavy United States’ financing, is one that no group within the country finds satisfactory. Sooner or later it will likely collapse or be transformed, a civil war will follow, and a return to dictatorship will likely be Iraq’s fate. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on that fiasco, in no small measure because the second Gulf War, unlike the first, had no clearly defined objective or exit strategy.
From that experience, one would have thought a powerful lesson would have been learned, but our intervention into Libya replicates the errors of the second Gulf War. It comes with no clearly defined objectives (Obama first demanded that Gaddafi be removed from power but the UN Security Council resolution calls for an immediate “cease-fire and a complete end to violence” achievable without Gaddafi’s ouster). Our involvement comes with no clearly defined exit strategy (do we continue U.S. military involvement until Gaddafi is removed from power, until Gaddafi’s forces cease combat operations against their opposition, until a faction from among the opposition overthrows Gaddafi’s regime, or until there is no more violence?).
By halting the advance of Gaddafi’s forces the Coalition is enabling Gaddafi’s opposition to mount a counteroffensive, resulting in greater civilian casualties, precisely the opposite of the purported goal of UN Security Council Resolution 1973; are we to then train our munitions on the opposition? Is our objective to stop the civil war? Is it to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime? Is it to enable certain of Gadaffi’s opponents to gain power and, if so, who among them? If it is to enable Gadaffi’s opponents to seize power, are we sure that those who take control will not establish a regime as brutal and repressive as Gadaffi’s? What achievement is necessary before we end American involvement? It appears that none of these details were evaluated carefully or translated into firm policy before President Obama began his war. He has entered the war with no clear objective and without a clear exit strategy.
If we had not intervened, a bloody civil war would have ensued, but a bloody civil war will also ensue with our intervention as emboldened opposition forces take on Gaddafi’s troops and endeavor to occupy towns from Eastern Libya through to Tripoli. If we had not intervened, Gaddafi would likely have remained in power but unless we target Gaddafi, he will remain in power and, given his ill humor, he will have every incentive to sponsor new acts of terror against the West. If we do target Gaddafi, who will replace him? We have little ability to alter the internal political dynamics of that country and, for all we know, someone just as brutal will assume control. Is this then another shock and awe spectacle, all bang at considerable expense, without anything beneficial for the United States in return?
In short, we are now embroiled in yet another international conflict devolving into a quagmire, where every outcome appears undesirable, where our involvement will likely persist in one way or another indefinitely, and where the costs will be extraordinary but the benefits to the American people will be close to nil but the detriments of a new round of state sponsored terror could be high indeed. Presidents who go to war typically enjoy a popularity boost. The war itself tends to unify the American people behind their President. Did that factor into the equation for Obama?
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In any event, we have witnessed a long train of constitutional abuses by this President on the domestic side. He now adds to that train this international abuse. A President who wields virtually unbridled authority in matters domestic and foreign is much like a Roman Emperor, except in Rome the Senate ordinarily suspended democratic government, turning power over to the Emperor. In the United States, President Obama has acquired imperial authority by raw exertion of power, our Congress and the Constitution notwithstanding.
© 2011 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved