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Libya – Obama’s Warped Concept of War Powers

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There’s a nice news nugget rolling around the web right now to the effect that the President “overruled” two White House Constitutional wonks on what constitutes hostilities involving the United States that require the approval of Congress. The case in question was, of course, Libya, and the specifics were whether the turning of Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli into a parking lot constituted ‘hostilities’.

From Qaddafi’s point of view, there’s no doubt that having his outhouses flattened and army tanks turned into burning hulks clearly constitutes ‘hostilities’. But war these days can be fought from a distance. It doesn’t have to be a two-way street anymore. Apart from the accidental loss of an F-15 during the early stages of the air strikes, we have suffered no battle casualties, and nor, as far as we know, have our allies. We have no boots on the ground, and will not be committing combat troops, which means we’re relying on air-power alone to sink the Libyan dictator. All that makes Obama’s and risible ‘constitutional’ argument somewhat defensible.

The second key factor is the legal foundation of the assault on Qaddafi. It’s a UN humanitarian mission, and definitely not an Article 7 assualt. The reason, of course, that it’s a “humanitarian” mission to bomb the daylights out of Qaddafi’s forces is because that was the only way to get the Chinese and Russian’s to abstain and allow the mission to move forward. The Russians and Chinese got played (which is rare for them). At the time, they had no idea of the extent of the mission, but they could hardly have been seen voting down a humanitarian mission. In other words, “humanitarian” is the cover that enabled the mission to have begun at all. If you remember, the origin of the ‘humanitarian’ mission was to avert a massacre of Benghazi rebels by Qaddafi’s forces massing outside the city. That massacre was predicted, but hadn’t taken place. An interesting approach to humanitarianism is born. From now on we can put the world’s bad guys on notice that if the UN conveniently ‘predicts’ a humanitarian catastrophe it can theoretically go to war to stop it. That would seem to extend the UN’s powers exponentially.

Thirdly, there’s the added cover of the assault being a NATO led mission. Since its creation just after World War Two, NATO has always been a fig leaf that enabled America to bypass the appearance of facing the Soviet Union alone. But the truth is that the power and capabilities of all our allies in NATO combined didn’t come close to that of the United States. NATO without America was not feasible, then, and it’s not feasible and now. In the case of the Libyan assault, the enemy is so weak that once the US had dispatched its air defenses, the feeble and out-dated Air Forces of our allies were more than adequate to the task of pounding the Libyan Army and Qaddafi’s headquarters.

Put all these factors together, and Obama can quite easily make a ‘de facto’ case that the Libyan mission doesn’t constitute hostilities under the War Powers Act. But make no mistake, despite all the talk of the learned constitutional scholar overruling his legal pups in the Oval Office, this debate has zero to do with the constitutional powers of the President, and everything to do with politics. The West wants to expunge its renewed relationship with Qaddafi, including the embarrassing trade agreement that the US recently forged with him.

But there’s a host of problems. What happens if we’re still slugging it out with Qaddafi a year from now, as we approach the Presidential Election? The argument will hold an awful lot less water, especially as the stalemate narrative will have solidified beyond any doubt. Does the US withdraw its forces? Does John Boehner try again to push through the War Powers argument? Certainly, on the ground, it seems clear that as of now, the Rebel forces do not have – without mass army defections – enough firepower, manpower, or operational ability to drive into and hold the capital Tripoli. The allied effort is driven by the thesis that Middle East dictators have total control until the day it rapidly falls apart. This may yet stand up, but the deeply tribal basis of Libyan culture and political life would tend to work against it. However, in the long term, Qaddafi will fall. The question is only whether NATO will have to call off the dogs for other domestic reasons.

More likely is another set of issues. What happens when Qaddafi falls, and despite all the moderate talk of the “Transitional Council” the bloodletting by anti-Qaddafi tribes begins? What happens when the cobbled-together “democracy” they try to create collapses? What happens when Islamists try to gain control? What happens if the refugee crisis Europe is hoping to avert – doesn’t get averted. What if we just get a different set of refugees?

In short, for all the President’s attempt to turn this into a professorial legal issue. It isn’t. It’s nasty, dirty, political and practical.

Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule could yet apply. We’ll own the Libya we inherit.

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Written by coolrebel

June 18, 2011 at 2:06 am

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