Barack Obama will no doubt list the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya as one of his foreign-policy triumphs. But anyone paying close attention will realize that Obama should be ashamed of what he did. Indeed, Congress should be inquiring whether he committed an impeachable offense.
What did he do? Like an autocrat, he committed U.S. military forces to a civil war in a foreign country without asking for a congressional declaration, as the U.S. Constitution requires, and even without complying with the less-stringent requirements of the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Under that law, a president may send troops into a war only in “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” Obviously that was not the case with Libya. There was never a threat to the United States, and Obama did not even pretend there was. He himself said the purpose of the air mission he and his NATO allies staged was merely to protect Libyan civilians.
The Obama administration brushed off this objection by saying that it can use force unilaterally in “the national interest,” a hopelessly vague standard found nowhere in any law.
The War Powers Resolution goes on to say that once a president has committed troops on his own say-so, he must obtain congressional authorization within 60 days. That deadline passed long ago. Obama never asked for or received formal authorization. Under those circumstances, he had 30 more days to disengage from the military operation. He has not done that.
How much flouting of a simple law can one man be guilty of?
With typical arrogance, the administration says the War Powers Resolution is irrelevant because the Libyan civil war does not constitute “hostilities.”
So on top of this flagrant lawlessness, Obama insults the intelligence of the American people.
Where are those members of Congress who claim to believe in the Constitution and rule of law? If a president can get away with what Obama has pulled, he can get away with anything.
It is astounding that an American president unilaterally can send forces into a foreign country, drop bombs, inflict civilian casualties, help overthrow the government — and hardly anyone speaks up for the rule of law. Are the American people so inured to abuse by “their” government?
Obama supporters, who happily tolerate what they hated when George W. Bush did it, praise the president for showing the American people how foreign intervention is properly done. We are to believe that all is okay if ground troops are not deployed, American casualties are avoided, the price tag isn’t too great, and NATO seems to be at the forefront. In other words, if only foreigners get killed and maimed because American pilots stay at a safe altitude and pilotless drones shoot their deadly Hellfire missiles, then who cares?
We have many reasons to care. The first is that it is nuts to concentrate so much power in the hands of one person. So far, the Libya operation has not blown up in America’s face, but what about the next time? No president can be trusted to decide when an intervention is safe and when it is not. Incidentally, the Libya affair is not over. No one can say with certainty what kind of regime will succeed Qaddafi’s with NATO’s help. The anti-Qaddafi rebels are a disparate collection of people, some of whom are not likely to be Jeffersonian democrats. No decent person will regret seeing Qaddafi brought to justice, but the end does not justify the means.
Another reason for concern is that we cannot have liberty and fiscal sanity at home if the U.S. government polices the world, even with congressional approval. Those who think government can be limited while a huge “national security” apparatus runs amuck are woefully mistaken. If they haven’t learned that over the last ten years, then they must have been sleepwalking.
Looking for monsters abroad inevitably leads to violations of our freedom and privacy here, not to mention deficit spending with all its attendant evils.
The American people have been sold out for the political and economic booty of empire. When will those responsible be brought to justice?
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.
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