Competency and Constitutionality in Question in Obama’s Libyan War

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 21st, 2011

The Libyan War as Popular as the Iraq War

The attacks on Libya have been authorized by the UN.  There is multilateral support.  And a coalition of the willing.  So we’re standing on the side of moral authority.  And legality.  Unlike the Iraq War.  At least this is what the supporters of this Libyan operation are saying.  And they speak with a united voice.  Or do they (see EDITORIAL: Obama’s illegal war by The Washington Times posted 3/18/2011 on The Washington Times)?

Five Security Council member states sat out the vote, including permanent members Russia and China, in addition to Germany, India and Brazil. China in particular objected to any action that would compromise Libya’s sovereignty, but did not veto the resolution. This may have been a political move, since the abstaining countries are now in a position to raise principled objections to whatever happens once force is utilized. To claim the United States forged an international consensus seems premature when Resolution 1973 did not have the support of countries representing 42 percent of the world’s population.

Russia, China, Germany, India and Brazil oppose this multilateral action?  And that 42%?  It appears that Libya at best may match the Iraq War in popularity.

Very Little Arab Participation in this Arab Matter

All right, we can expect some of this dissent.  But what about one of our allies.  One of the coalition of the willing (see The House of Commons reacts to Libya assault by Peter McHugh posted 3/21/2011 on the UK’s Channel 4 News)?

[The Prime Minister] was just seven minutes into his defence before the first doubt appeared. How would he avoid “mission creep” asked the SNP’s Angus Robertson. Politicians on all sides now use military phrases as short hand for much more serious questions and what he really wanted to know was how do we avoid the Iraq experience when George W Bush said the war was over in days but thousands were to die in the unplanned years that followed…

He said the campaign against Gaddafi was well supported but only Qatar,out of all the arab states were committing troops. Starting a war was easy, said Dennis Skinner, ending it much harder especially if we did not know what would mark the end.

The unease continued to expose itself in a series of interruptions. “What about the £230m of arms we had sold to Libya last year?” asked one MP and “What about Yemen and Bahrain?” said Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Would the Prime Minister resign if British “boots” were ever on the ground in Libya?

The UK and France are the two big European nations in charge of this thing.  And one of them is already having a lot of second thoughts.  They’re worried about mission creep.  It becoming another Iraq.  And for a “well supported” mission, there’s only one Arab state on board.  Strange, for it is Arab killing Arab in Libya.  And the Arab League supported the UN resolution to create the no-fly zone.  This lack of Arab participation can be unsettling for the coalition.  For without Arab participation, it can look like European Christians fighting Muslims on oil-rich land.  And that just won’t be good for the mission.

The Nobel Peace Prize Winner Initiates War

Across the pond, Republicans and Democrats alike are questioning the Libyan action.  Some of the stronger criticism may be coming from Republicans (see Rep. Roscoe Bartlett Says President Obama’s Unilateral Choice to Order U.S. Military Force Against Qadhafi is an Affront to Our Constitution by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett posted 3/21/2011 on bartlett.house.gov).

“The United States does not have a King’s army. President Obama’s unilateral choice to use U.S. military force in Libya is an affront to our Constitution. President Obama’s administration has repeated the mistakes of the Clinton administration concerning bombing in Kosovo and the George W. Bush administration concerning invading Iraq by failing to request and obtain from the U.S. Congress unambiguous prior authorization to use military force against a country that has not attacked U.S. territory, the U.S. military or U.S. citizens. This is particularly ironic considering then-Senator Obama campaigned for the Democratic nomination based upon his opposition to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

Some serious charges there.  But is it only partisanship?  I mean, right now, President Obama isn’t all that popular these days with his war on Libya.  He’s letting down some of his most avid supporters.  Who are no doubt stunned.  Their Nobel Peace Prize winner initiating war?  How can this be?

The Russians Call the Coalition Christian Crusaders after Libya’s Oil

Remember when Hillary Clinton went to Russia with that button?  To reset Russian-American relations?  They got the Russian translation wrong on the button.  But the Russians still praised the Obama administration for the effort.  But they’re not praising him anymore (see Russian Duma Leader Wants Obama Stripped of Nobel Peace Prize by Kenneth Rapoza posted 3/21/2011 on Forbes).

The controversial leader of the Russian Liberal Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky,  said in a statement on Monday that he will ask the Nobel Committee to strip President Barack Obama of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Zhirinovsky said in the letter that the prize, awarded in 2009 for Obama’s historic presidential victory and his work on nuclear non proliferation, was now hypocritical in light of recent missile strikes in Libya…

“These developments in Libya are another outrageous act of aggression by NATO forces and, in particular, the United States,” he wrote, calling it a “colonial policy” with the goal to control Libyan oil…

Zhirinovsky’s protest to the Nobel Committee is most likely a cry in the wilderness.

However, Russian officials have stated no interest in military adventures to punish Gadhafi for waging a civil war against anti-government forces. On Monday, The Economic Times of India reported Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calling the airstrikes on Libya a “medieval call for crusades.”

Strip the Nobel Peace Prize?  You could say that the missile strikes are a far cry from what he did to win the Peace Prize.  Which was nothing.  He was elected in 2008.  Took office in 2009.  Not a whole lot of time to do anything.  But Zhirinovsky is a small player in Russia these days.  It doesn’t really matter what he says.  Putin is the power in that country.  And he called Obama’s airstrikes a “medieval call for crusades.”

I think we’re going to need another button.

Obama Attacked for Attacking his own Kind

And it gets worse.  Even some of his most ardent supporters are turning on the president (see Farrakhan To Obama: “Who The Hell Do You Think You Are?” by Alan Colmes posted 3/21/2011 on Liberal Land).

You’re a liar and a hypocrite, and I warn my brother don’t let these wicked demons move you in a direction that will let you absolutely ruin your future with your people in Africa and throughout the world…My advice would be, why don’t you organize a group of respected Americans and ask for a meeting with Qaddafi? You can’t order him to step down and get out. Who the hell do you think you are, that you can talk to a man that built a country over 42 years, and ask him step down and get out? Can anybody ask you?

Your people?  Why, that sounds a bit racist.  His people in Africa is code for black.  His people throughout the world is code for Muslim.  Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, is slamming Obama for attacking his black brothers.  And his Muslim brothers.  Even though Obama is a Christian.  Confusing, yes, but for whatever reason Muslims around the world (even Gaddafi looks at him as a son) have adopted this Christian as one of their own.

Mission and Command Structure Poorly Defined

So despite all the talk about a multilateral coalition of the willing, the actions against Libya are pretty unpopular.  Which means support will probably not last long.  So they better get in fast.  Complete the mission with all possible speed and efficiency.  Declare mission accomplished.  And get out.  Shouldn’t be too hard (see Confusion Over Who Leads Libya Strikes, and for How Long by Steven Erlanger posted 3/21/2011 on The New York Times).

As the military operation continued over Libya on Monday, there was some confusion about which country or organization is actually leading it, and for how long. France, Britain and the United States are in charge of their own operations, which each have different code names.

The participants are being “coordinated” by the United States, but not commanded by it, according to the French Defense Ministry. The Americans, with the most assets, seem to be the lead coordinator, but Washington has said it wants to step back after the initial phase and have NATO take charge of maintaining a no-fly zone and arms embargo.

Britain wants NATO to take over but France does not, and Italy is threatening to rethink its participation unless NATO takes command.

Okay, so there is some confusion about the command structure.  But if France is the only holdout in turning over command to NATO we should be able to make a persuasive case to them.  Then that problem will be solved.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said in Brussels on Monday that “the Arab League does not wish the operation to be entirely placed under NATO responsibility…

Turkey is also reluctant to have NATO take charge, since it is the only Muslim member of the alliance, has opposed the use of force in Libya and was excluded from a Saturday planning meeting in Paris. But Turkey, which has kept lines open to the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, is likely to allow NATO to run the operation as long as it does not invade Libya with any ground forces or occupy the country.

Okay, that’s a bigger problem.  The whole Arab world is against NATO assuming command of operations.  Perhaps the British and the French can run the coalition.

Washington may be willing to have France and Britain run the operation as a coalition, but that would be hard for the two countries to do without using NATO assets for command and control, most of which belong to the United States. But Washington has never been willing to put its troops under the command of any other nation, one reason that even in NATO, the Supreme Commander Europe, is always an American.

Good night nurse.  Did anyone think this through?  Before we committed to military operations?  The coalition will fall apart before the popular support for the war does.  Command and control issues.  Mission uncertainty (regime change or no regime change).  If we’re this unclear now that we’re in a shooting war, exactly what clarity was there when we committed to the use of force?

Obama says Libyan Civil War is a US Security Threat

Well, the President explains why in a letter to Congress (see Obama explains Libya mission to Congress by Greg Sargent posted 3/21/2011 on The Washington Post).

Qadhafi’s continued attacks and threats against civilians and civilian populated areas are of grave concern to neighboring Arab nations and, as expressly stated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, constitute a threat to the region and to international peace and security. His illegitimate use of force not only is causing the deaths of substantial numbers of civilians among his own people, but also is forcing many others to flee to neighboring countries, thereby destabilizing the peace and security of the region. Left unaddressed, the growing instability in Libya could ignite wider instability in the Middle East, with dangerous consequences to the national security interests of the United States.

Threatening the United States?  Really?  Losing Egypt to the Muslim Brotherhood could threaten our security.  Losing Bahrain to Iran-friendly Shiite control could threaten our security.  But Libya?  While we have suffered at the hands of Gaddafi, it was more tit for tat.  When he retaliated after receiving a military ass-kicking from the US.  His weapon of choice?  Terrorism.  He blew up a Berlin disco frequented by American Servicemen.  And blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  If the pattern follows, we are at greater danger by our action.  Inaction would have been the safer bet for American security.

Note the mention of the “consequences to the national security interests of the United States.” Some Dems are arguing that Obama needs Congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution, which only allows the President to initiate military action without Congress if America is under attack or under serious threat.

Indeed, Dennis Kucinich is citing this quote from Obama himself back in 2007: “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Obama’s insistence that our national security is at stake if Gaddafi is not repelled by force tacitly asserts the President’s authority to invade without Congressional authorization.

Not only are we not safer, there are serious questions about the constitutionality of Obama’s actions.

George W. Bush more Constitutional than Barack Obama

The United Nations Participation Act (UNPA) of 1945 is U.S. law governing our actions with the United Nations (UN).  It defines what the president’s authority is when working with the UN.  And it’s not much (see The false defenders of Obama’s war in Libya by Michael Lind posted 3/21/2011 on Salon).

The only rational way to interpret these sections of the UNPA is to read them as authorizing the president, without congressional approval, to supply fewer than a thousand noncombatant troops to the U.N. for Article 41 actions short of war, and also to negotiate agreements to supply armed forces to the U.N. under Article 43 — but only with prior congressional approval. In Article 42 situations, like the situation in Libya, where the U.N. Security Council calls on members to go to war, the UNPA did not grant the president to act without congressional approval — presumably because the Congress that passed the UNPA understood that all Article 42 enforcement actions approved by the Security Council would have to be separately and independently approved by congressional declarations of war before the U.S. could take part.

Far from delegating the president vast discretion to wage war in pursuit of U.N. requests, the U.N. Participation Act jealously guards the constitutional prerogatives of Congress.

In other words, the Constitution grants war making powers to Congress.  Not the UN.  Or the President.

The Constitution cannot be amended by statute. It cannot be amended by treaty. It cannot be amended by precedent. It cannot be amended by public opinion poll. It cannot be amended by election result. It cannot be amended by humanitarian pity. The U.S. Constitution can only be amended by the procedures set forth in Article V of the Constitution itself.

People are free, if they wish, to propose a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would read as follows: “The President of the United States shall have power to initiate war on his own authority, without the prior approval of Congress; provided, however, that Congress may refuse to appropriate funding for the continuation of a war the president has begun.” Such an amendment would create the situation that many people falsely claim to be the case today. Until such an amendment is ratified and goes into effect, however, the law of the land remains what it has always been, and President Obama’s war in Libya, even if it is moral, prudent and legally authorized under international law by the Security Council, is plainly unconstitutional.

Obama is president of the United States.  He swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  He did not swear an oath to the UN.  His authority is defined in the U.S. Constitution.  And it is clear he exceeded his constitutional authority.

Obama supporters are just exasperated to no end.  Because they know that George W. Bush went to war in Iraq with more Constitutional authority.  And this fact is just killing them.

The Libyan War already a Mess

The international community is not united in the attacks on Libya.  There is dissent within the coalition.  Uncertainty about mission.  Exit strategy.  Disagreement over command and control.  And legality.  It’s a mess.  It begs the question why Obama would do this to himself.  Especially with the 2012 elections around the corner.  He looks at the world through political eyes.  One can only assume that he has a plan to make this work to his advantage.  But it sure is hard to see how from here. 

Or is it just like JFK’s/LBJ’s whiz kids during the Vietnam War?  Completely out of their element.  Inept.  And making one bad decision after another.  Guess we’ll find out at the 2012 election.

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