Many have been debating if U.S. President Barack Obama’s action to intervene in Libya along with the so-called coalition (a term first used by BBC) is unlawful and unconstitutional. I have been very tacit about my support for this conflict. Why? When I was younger, I cheered along with my dad as I saw the bombing of Baghdad in 2003 beginning the Iraq war. I seem to be doing the same now except it’s the bombing of Libya. I decided that I shouldn’t do that at all. I should examine this war closely. I think the war in Libya is waste of time for the United States. The best way for America to help the rebels would be giving arms and ammunition to help them fight their revolution against Gaddafi if that at all. We should not help with the no-fly zone or indiscriminate bombings in Libya that do not protect civilian lives. The air power of the coalition is not going to stop Gaddafi in his reign of terror. The U.S. should not participate in this madness and just let the other countries involved enforce the no-fly zone. They don’t need our help in enforcing the no-fly zone, it just will enrage the Arab world even more at our actions. However, the no-fly zone in Libya is different from other no-fly zones in history.
Recent conflicts have followed the pattern of Libya in some way. In 1991 multiple Western states intervened to stop ethnic cleansing by instituting a no-fly zone over the Kurdish areas in Iraq. It was in place to prevent chemical attacks and intensive bombing on Kurdish people by the Iraqi regime. The reasoning is eerily similar to justification for a no-fly zone over Libya for almost the past week. Like the UN resolution 1973 concerning Libya recently that was supposed to protect civilians “with all necessary measures”, in 1991, Western powers cited UN Security Council Resolution 688 as means of authorizing the no-fly zone over the area. Similar to resolution 1973, the text of Resolution 688 did explicitly state a way to stop the ethnic violence including no mention of a no-fly zone: “Deeply disturbed by the magnitude of the human suffering involved…Demands that Iraq…immediately end this repression… Requests the Secretary-General…pursue…humanitarian efforts in Iraq…on the basis of a further mission to the region [and other reasons].”[i] In a surprising move, former Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali called the no-fly zone illegal in a 2003 interview. Only one year after the controversy in Iraq over the no-fly zone, the UN Security Council (SC) passed SC Resolution 781 which said there could not be unauthorized military flights in Bosnian airspace. This led to a NATO monitored no-fly zone, which was weakly enforced. Hopefully in Libya it does not go down that road in light of NATO control of the no-fly zone. In response to the weak enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnian airspace, a stricter one was put in place with SC Resolution 816 that was open ended allowing UN member states “[to] take necessary measures to [enforce the no-fly zone].” As a result of this, it was a NATO led operation similar to the operation mandated by Resolution 1973 over Libya involving intensive bombing that was part of enforcing a no-fly zone. We must remember: history repeats itself and serves as a guide for the future. But, none of these historical events are the roots of the current controversy over Libya. The questions brought up in the minds of many across the political spectrum and the independent news media are:
- Is intervention into Libya for imperialist reasons?
- Is the U.S. involvement in Libya unconstitutional?
- Does the ‘war’ in Libya violate the War Powers Resolution?
I’ll start with the imperialist aspect to the Libyan war including America’s share of the imperialist mindset that has existed since the declaring of Manifest Destiny in 1820s. In an interview by The Real News [ii], Gilbert Achcar, the Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London said, “To think this intervention is about…granting concessions to Western oil companies [is wrong,] they have them already. There is an oil dimension in all that…the conditions of the oil market and in the conditions of the global economy presently. [It] is not sustainable [to use Libyan oil]. And that’s why they have to prevent that [by intervening].” I agree with Professor Achcar that this war is not about gaining oil rights but is about protecting the oil being pumped out and in the ground from conflict. Wall Street supports this war in Libya because it is protecting their money. If the oil is protected from the ravages of war, they can continue making all the money they want. I believe that the intervention in Libya by the so-called coalition was just to secure oil supply for selfish reasons. All the countries want a piece of the pie and that means oil rights if that don’t already have them and maintaining current oil rights if they already have them. Another reason for this intervention in Libya is an imperialist one. Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University addressed this point, “US and its European allies…are trying to use and abuse the criminal atrocities of Gaddafi to get a foothold, diplomatic and military foothold, in the peaceful revolutionary uprising…in North Africa.” [iii] Imperialism is defined as: Control one country has over another country or area through economic, political or military means. The intervention in Libya by the Western nations (and soon the Arab nations) fulfills all three versions of imperialism as my graphic shows:
The extent of imperialism in this war is very troubling. This aspect of the war is not debatable, but the possible unconstitutionality of the war and mention of the War Powers Resolution is shaking the bedrock of the major political parties, Republican and Democratic.
No President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has asked Congress to declare war on another country. In the Cold War (1945-1991), the President began to develop the power to intervene in certain conflicts without Congress’s consent. They tried to remedy this in the War Powers Resolution which I will mention later. Article 1 Section 8 says a non-debatable ideas about Congress’s war powers: “Congress shall have the power…to define and punish piracies…to declare war…to raise and support armies…to provide and maintain a navy…to make regulations for land and naval forces…to exercise authority over all places in which [there] shall be erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dock-yards, and other needful buildings.” From that it sounds like Congress would be the only part of government that can start a war. However, some people argue the President has certain war powers as possibly mentioned Article 2 Section 2: “The President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States…when called into the actual service of the United States.” Nowhere in the passage does it even hint at the power of the President to unilaterally go into war without Congressional authorization. Those that say the President does have the power have the incorrect view and just want a President who can be tyrant like King George III who America broke away from in the American Revolution (1775-1784). We don’t want a dictator-like leader ruling America, do we? No we don’t. We want a democracy with a separation of powers between the Legislative, Judicial and Executive Branches. However, this conflict in Libya conducted by a US-led coalition (for now) could be hard to prove that U.S. President has violated the constitution. Some legislators offered their ideas on this subject including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) in a letter to the President on March 23, 2011, “It is regrettable that no opportunity was afforded to consult with Congressional leaders, as was the custom of your predecessors, before your decision as Commander-in-Chief to deploy into combat the men and women of our Armed Forces.” [vii] Some in Congress had even stronger statements than Boehner’s carefully worded letter including Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), who stated “If a war against Libya is to be initiated, it must be declared by the proper Constitutional authority: the U.S. Congress” [viii] and Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), in an interview argues his point as well, “President Obama moved forward without Congress approving. He didn’t have Congressional authorization, he has gone against the Constitution, and that’s got to be said…It’s not even disputable, this isn’t even a close question. Such an action…is a grave decision that cannot be made by the president alone.” [ix] Despite these statements, President Obama’s staff argues that they did meet with Congressional leaders to brief them on Libya days before they intervened. But I think that still isn’t enough to qualify as consent of Congress. It needs to be voted on and authorized in Congress for it to count as constitutional (the Iraq war and Afghani war had authorization, why can’t this conflict in Libya?). Since the unconstitutionality of the war is debated, it seems to not be problem, right? In two letter during the debates over the United States Constitution, Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist XXIV (1787) and The Federalist LXIX (1788) disagrees: “The Executive [does not have] the power to levy troops without [consent] of the legislature…The President[’s power to be] commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States… amount[s] to nothing more than supreme command and direction of military and naval forces…while the British king [George III’s power] extends to the declaring of war.” Hamilton was one of so-called founders of the Constitution, so I think his opinion is a valid one. President Obama is violating the principles set forth in the U.S. Constitution, which is an impeachable offense. Despite Obama committing unconstitutional actions, they are justified under the War Powers Resolution, a law that in some ways does not follow the principle of the separation of powers delegated in the United States Constitution.
Signing of the Gulf Of Tonkin Resolution by President LBJ, starting a war that led to the passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto [x]
The War Powers Resolution[xi] is supposed “to insure that the collective judgment of Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities” but it justifies war powers that American Presidents have assumed were part of their authority as Chief Executive ever since. Throughout the law it gives the President has power to go into war without Congressional authorization. In the law, an “attack upon the United States” allows the President to enter war unilaterally. In addition, The resolution does not require the President (as the Constitution implies) to consult with Congress before going into war, instead making it seem optional: “[in] every possible instance [the President] shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities.” As any reasonable person can see, this resolution is partly unconstitutional. The way to fix this is by amending the resolution to remove this material and replace it with something requiring Congressional approval unless there is an attack on the United States. An attack on the United States woulkd be defined by Congress as they deem it appropriate. The only part of the law that President Obama could have violated is in the early part of the resolution: “In the absence of a declaration of war in which United States Armed Forces are introduced …the president shall submit within 48 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate a report, setting forth—
(A) the circumstances necessitating the introduction of United States Armed Forces;
(B) the constitutional and legislative authority under which such introduction took place; and
(C) the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or involvement.” The question is, did Obama lay out the circumstances, constitutional authority, estimated scope and duration of hostilities or involvement in Libya? Well, in his letter on March 21, 2011[xii] (which complies with the 48-hr rule in the law) to Speaker John Boehner he tries to address all of these concerns: “U.S. military forces assist[ed in] an international effort authorized by the United Nations Security Council…to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and address the threat posed to international peace and security by the crisis in Libya. These strikes will be limited in their nature, duration, and scope. Their purpose isto support an international coalition…[that would] enforce the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973…Qadhafi’s continued attacks and threats against civilians and civilian populated areas constitute a threat to the region and to international peace and security. United States forces are conducting a limited and well-defined mission in support of international efforts to protect civilians and prevent a humanitarian disaster. I have directed these actions pursuant to my constitutional authority…as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.” Well, this letter does justify the “circumstances necessitating [war]” and the constitutional authority under which this took place (I do not agree with his reasoning since I oppose the war). However, this letter does not address the legislative authority Obama used to introduce America’s armed forces into Libya in the form of a no-fly zone. There was no legislative authority he used because he never really consulted with Congress. The war in Libya does not count as an act of self-defense in anyway, so Obama doesn’t really have good reason to not have Congress’s approval for war. A briefing with Congress does NOT count as congressional authorization to declare war. Since the War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional, his actions are illegal. Even our previous President, George W. Bush, had congressional authorization for his imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the letter the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities are not outlined clearly. It just says that the “strikes will be limited” and that “United States forces are conducting a limited and well-defined mission.” Well, what are limited strikes? What is a well-defined mission? What is the threat posed to international peace and security? What is the scope of the conflict? All of these questions are too vague and need to be clarified. The American public deserves to know why their President is starting a war and specifics about the war itself such as the U.S. role in Libya in Operation Odyssey Dawn. The wrongful War Powers Resolution does tell the President he can “report to Congress periodically on the status of such hostilities…the scope and duration of hostilities [at least] once every six months.” Based on this it would seem that Obama’s actions in this war are justified, but in reality they are not because of the unconstitutionality of this law. You might be asking, why is this law unconstitutional? Well, in Article 1 section 8, it gives Congress “the power…to declare war” along with other war related powers such as building and maintaining armies. This resolution basically gives the President the power to declare war under certain circumstances for “Sixty days [and then] President shall terminate [the] use of United States Armed Forces…unless Congress has declared war or enacted a specific authorization.” The War Powers Resolution isn’t all bad. After the President has submitted a letter explaining why he started hostilities “[and] the Congress has adjourned…for any period [of more than] in three days, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate, if they deem it advisable or if petitioned by at least 30 percent of [Congress] shall jointly request the President to convene Congress…and take appropriate action.” This is one of the only checks and balances imbedded into the bill. Shockingly, toward the end of the resolution there is a part basically invalidates the war powers the President has ‘gained’ from other parts of the law: “Nothing in this joint resolution is intended to alter the constitutional authority of the Congress or of the President…as granting any [extra] authority to the President.” It seems that President Obama has violated the U.S. Constitution and parts of the invalid War Powers Resolution.
I was in support of this war in Libya, but as you may have noticed from this opinion piece I am not in support of this war anymore that is conducted. Yesterday NATO took control of the no-fly zone. This is step in the right direction but not enough. The U.S. needs to stop all military operations in Libya and if they want to support the rebels then they should give arms and ammunition, if anything at all. The war is imperialist, unconstitutional and illegal as I stated previously. Also this war in Libya is very costly as Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said: “[U.S. costs could] easily pass the $1 billion mark on this operation, regardless of how well things go.” An article from two days ago on Government Executive.com states, “There comes a point when there simply isn’t enough cash to pay for everything.”[xiii] In conclusion I believe the U.S. involvement militarily in Libyan operations should be stopped as soon as possible and if the U.S. wants to support the rebels quest to stop Gaddafi’s rampage in Libya, they should just give military weapons or maybe give nothing at all and just let the other coalition forces take the heat for the war.
By Burkely Hermann, Chief Correspondent for HermannView