Libya and the War Powers Act

President Barack Obama said on December 20, 2007 that “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that doesn’t involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

Time magazine, in the June 24, 2011 issue, tried to explain how the Obama administration apparently defines hostilities “as a condition that exists only when U.S. troops are in a position to be fired on.” When asked about what constitutes being at war, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said that if you have fired thousands of cruise missiles and launched hundreds of drone strikes at a country, that should constitute being at war.

President Obama has sent information to Congress on U.S. involvement in Libya but he has adamantly refused to comply with the specific provisions of the War Powers Act. I believe, as does Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), that only Congress can declare war and granting power to the executive branch to initiate war is a clear violation of the Constitution.

When protests broke out in Libya and Col. Muammar Qaddafi vowed to crush the uprising, the issue quickly became one of whether the United States should participate in a no-fly zone being considered by our closest NATO allies. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates opposed the no-fly zone because he considered it an act of war and doubted the capability of available U.S. military forces to sustain the action. The top military commander, General Carter Ham, whose command included Libya, disagreed with his commander-in-chief’s contention that our top objective was to drive Col. Qaddafi from power.

The United Nations’ justification for use of force focused on protecting the population of Benghazi. By ignoring limits set by the United Nations, NATO may have lost future legitimacy in taking on a mission to protect a threatened population. The responsibility to protect became the opportunity to oust.

The final showdown in Libya occurred in Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown. At that time, Qaddafi’s power had been effectively broken and it was no longer necessary to protect any part of the population. Thus, when a convoy of 18 expensive-looking vehicles left Sirte, it was very likely that Qaddafi and maybe members of his family were in the convoy. However, even though the mission was to protect, not to oust, the convoy was attacked from the air, including a U.S. Predator drone.

Muammar Qaddafi was found hiding in a drainage pipe, hauled out, brutally beaten, shot in the head, and his body triumphantly displayed to the gathered crowd. Subsequently, a report surfaced that 53 Qaddafi loyalists were summarily executed, then hundreds similarly treated were mentioned, and then it was reported that thousands of Qaddafi loyalists and/or mercenaries were being held. This was an inauspicious beginning for a movement that was to bring an entirely different type of governance to Libya.

Eugene Robinson, the Washington Post columnist, has pointed out that one of the most troubling aspects of the U.S. involvement in Libya and, generally, in reaction to the uprisings of the Arab Spring,  was the lack of a policy — no Obama Doctrine nor overarching plan. When a revolt broke out in Egypt, the Obama White House voiced cautious support of Hosni Mubarak, hoping he would quell the revolt with limited bloodshed. It was only after the White House saw the strength of the rebellion that demands begin to be made that Mubarak leave.

In regard to Bahrain, a no-fly-zone nor any other intervention by force was not even contemplated, even after the monarchy began to kill its own citizens. Saudi Arabia sent in armed forces out of fear that a successful rebellion in Bahrain would spur rebellion among its own Sunni population. Soon after the rebellion in Bahrain was put down, the U.S. sent $50 million in military equipment to Bahrain.

It is only recently that a no-fly-zone over Syria began to receive serious consideration, despite the continuing bloody suppression of the rebelling Syrians. Syria, it is true, presents a different situation from Libya, as it has a much stronger military force and there is the prospect of a bloody civil war between the minority ruling Alawite sect and the majority Sunni Muslim population. Using military force against the Syrian government brings the prospect of a wider regional war, not in the cards with regard to Libya. Yet, an endangered population in Libya was protected and an endangered population in Syria was not.

It is a good thing that Col. Qaddafi no longer rules in Libya; however, the manner of his death and the absence of an opposition with coherent policies, raise troubling questions. It is very possible that the ouster of Qaddafi will bring about a regime as destructive as was that of Qaddafi.

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