Sunday, March 27, 2011

War In Libya: Wrong and Illegal


I know in this late hour that it is popular to denounce Muammar Gaddafi as the devil incarnate.  It is easy to do so because Gaddafi is by all accounts a dictator with a predilection for repression.  Sadly, this world is filled with many such people, including not an infrequent number in my own country (within my government and in the body politic).  However, that does not justify or rationalize my government, never mind the European contributors, to attack and bomb Libya.

In essence, the charge is that the Libyan government's crackdown on its population in February was so harsh, so severe, that it necessitated a 'no-fly' zone, an enabling resolution from the UN Security Council, and the sweet joys of dropping our cluster bombs throughout Tripoli and the roadsides of the country to "protect" the people of Libya (i.e., the rebels fighting Gaddafi's government).  To be sure, the US at least bothered to get the UN Security Council to pass a resolution, to give us some legitimacy in our attack (something the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration saw as akin to supporting Islamic terrorism), but that does not exculpate the crime of the attack itself.

My opposition in based on three grounds.  One, history.  Two, the hypocrisy of inaction of similar crackdowns in the rest of the Arab world.  Three, the blatant violation of the US Constitution that is taking place in this intervention.

One, if anyone has paid attention for the past few decades, my government has a long, sordid, and not altogether very successful record of military interventions in the Middle East, interventions that have shredded our reputation, prestige, and called into question our own values.  One could go back our interventions in Lebanon in the '50s and the '80s, our overthrow of the Mossadeq government in Persia in 1953, but in more recent times our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Granted, we 'won' to the extent that Kuwait (that bastion of democracy with an unelected head-of-state) is free and Saddam Hussein long departed to the hereafter, but we also preemptively invaded the country on our second visit, caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, destroyed the lives of tens of thousands of our military personnel, and spent about a trillion dollars of tax monies to subsidize and prop up a democratically-elected Islamic state.  

And in the process of all this we also permanently damaged our reputation throughout the world, making us a pariah state in the Muslim world and for that matter most everywhere outside of the walls of the Manhattan Institute.  And we are still in Iraq and will be for the foreseeable future, in spite of what our President says.

And then there was Afghanistan.  We are going on year ten in Afghanistan.  The Taliban is resurgent and stronger than ever, and the people responsible for wrecking the planes into our buildings are hiding comfortably in Pakistan (assuming any of them are still alive).  Again, if this is what we call a success I would really like for someone to point out what a failed military campaign looks like (next to getting physically expelled from the theater of operations).

True, we are supposedly only going to use air power in Libya (minus a couple of thousand of Marines that are to be on-call), will pass this war off to NATO (even though the commanding general of NATO is at all times, by rule, an American general and who will impose a 'no fly zone-plus' on Libya [I would like to see how that remains within the construct of UN Resolution 1973]), so as to make certain that we do not to make ourselves look like the evil imperialists we have become over the years.  But nothing is going to change the fact that we are militarily supporting a group of insurgents in another country by attacking its government.  We are committing acts of war against yet another Arab nation.  Is it any wonder why the rest of the region is a little circumspect and doubtful about our intentions?  One only need to look at what we have done to their brethren.

Two, why is it that we must act and intervene in Libya, when we refuse to do so in cases of violent repression that are every bit as awful, if not worse, than what happened in Tripoli last month?  In Yemen, the government (and our close ally) decided that the best way to deal with its demonstrators (who wanted to be rid of its authoritarian leadership) was to use snipers on them, killing and wounding hundreds of innocent people.  The government in Bahrain was even more blunt.  After losing the ability to torture and kill its demonstrators, it decided to employ the use of Saudi security forces to assist them.  Imagine if the Bahraini government used security forces from, say, China or Libya to shoot and torture its demonstrators.  I am certain Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have done more than caution the Bahraini government.  All of this, by the way, is occurring during the same time span that Libya's crackdown was situationally used as an exemplar demanding US/UN military action.  I suppose someone should have told the demonstrators in Damascus that they should have flown to Tripoli.  We might have paid more attention to their sniper shots and baton wounds.

Three, as hard as this is to believe, since every POTUS has ignored our Constitution when it comes to war-making powers since World War Two, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 clearly states that Congress, not the President, has the legal authority to make war.  Of course, we have not had a president who bothered to even pay attention to Congress on war and foreign policy issues since FDR and the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s, but it should be noted that even President Polk, the wretch who wanted to invade and annex Mexico to spread slavery to newly conquered territories and guarantee the institution's survival, even a man as backwards as James K. Polk, waited until Congress declared war before actually going to war with Mexico.

When Barack Obama ran for President back in 2008, one of his campaign themes was his criticism (insincere though it was) of Bush Jr. for his overuse of unitary executive authority--aka the imperial presidency (prevalent in American foreign policy since FDR, at the earliest).  Amazingly, Barack Obama once pretended to care about our Constitution.  You might remember him.


This is the same man who now has a personal assassination list, filled not just with names of foreigners but even American citizens, who are to be killed on sight, because they are accused (but not indicted or prosecuted) of being terrorists.*  And now this is the same man who preemptively goes to war with Libya without so much as consulting Congress or paying attention to that pesky Article 1 of our Constitution.

This is also the same man who, like every POTUS since Richard Nixon, has refused to recognize the War Powers Act, even though it is an act of Congress and law, which restricts the president from sending troops into harm's way without consulting Congress.  Congress has never bothered to take any president to court probably because it knows that since it cowered and abnegated its own Constitutional authority our beloved Supreme Court (who considers corporate money speech) would likely side with the White House's assumed near imperial status in deciding which country to blow up.  Notice, few, if any, members of Congress ever talk about the WPA, except maybe Dennis Kucinich, and he is almost completely blackballed by the media (and hated by the leadership of his own party for having the guts to call for the impeachment of our last president).

Be that as it may, how can any progressive call for the impeachment of George Bush for the invasion of Iraq and yet ignore this preemptive war (preemptive because there is no formal declaration and Libya has not attacked us)?  How can we be honest with ourselves as citizens by playing favorites in who we think should be allowed to violate our laws and traditions in this country?  True, it can be easily argued that just about every president since 1945 should have been impeached (except maybe Gerald Ford [who was not in office long enough to start a war]), but it would be a start in reasserting the control of this country's foreign policy back to where it belongs and where the people who wrote our Constitution intended for it to be--our legislative branch.

Sounds radical?  It should not.  Here is our first Secretary of Treasury on the matter:
“The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. In this respect his authority would be nominally the same with that of the king of Great Britain, but in substance much inferior to it. It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces, as first General and admiral of the Confederacy; while that of the British king extends to the declaring of war and to the raising and regulating of fleets and armies — all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature.”--Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #69
This is exactly why Congress (regardless of which party is in power) should be the first institution of choice to decide whether or not we go to war with Libya or for that matter anyone else.  The UN Charter does not obviate our legislature's final word on the matter.  An enabling resolution does not require us to use force, if we decide not to.  But our Constitution does require our President to have the authorization for any use of force from Congress.  For some reason, this gets ignored in the mesh of the Libyan war when it should be first in our considerations.

*=Even Jeffrey Dahmer saw his day in court.  Apparently, Mr. Anwar al-Awlaki does not have to worry about such trivialities.  If only he was a serial-killer and cannibal.