Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

No "hostilities" in Libya

Okay, so what kind of kool-aid do they drink in the White House? I can't think of another administration which willingly keeps giving its enemies more and more ammunition.

Of all bone-headed excuses they can conjure to skirt the War Power Act requirements, the Obama administration argues that the intervention in Libya is not an act of hostilities?! What were they thinking?

Of course, this is a very dicey issue from the start. Why should the United States intervene in Libya? This should be the underlying question of any attempt to gain approval from Congress. Like all debates on human rights interventions, when should a state start and refrain from intervening under the banner of "defending human rights?" So Libya fits the bill? Fine, but what about Syria? Bahrain? Iran? Yemen? The list goes on and on and on.

Moreover, with the public's appetite for war at its lowest in quite some time, coupled with the elections next year and Obama's certain quest to recapture his "peace mojo" among the anti-war liberals, it is not politically palatable for him to engage in a third war.

Because the administration is simply unable to answer those questions, the easiest way out is to punt, to simply argue that the "War Power Act" does not apply in Libya, since the US is not engaged in a direct action there. Rather, according to the White House, the U.S. has played a supporting role under the auspices of NATO and crossing the fingers.

Legally, this is correct. Obama's attempts in trying to stay in the "gray" area, to avoid stepping in what he believes is the tripwire for the "War Power Act," causes NATO's efforts in Libya to be a half-hearted effort and ineffective, as NATO itself has neither the capability nor the political will to engage in a full-scale intervention.

Realistically, however, how many people will buy this argument? That the U.S. has done little in Libya? Even though the U.S. is in a supporting position, the United States is still providing about 75 percent of aerial refueling flights and at least 70 percent of intelligence and surveillance flights in the campaign.

Qaddafi may be nutty, but he is not an idiot. He knows about this debate on the War Powers Act and he's counting that by the time the clock hits 90-days, Obama may be chicken enough to submit to Congressional will, or maybe the Congress or Dennis Kucinich will be angry enough to stop the military action.

Thus, Obama's decision of sidestepping the hard question blows on his face now. Instead, this will simply play into the narrative of an "out-of-touch arrogant White House that will bypass the Congress when it is inconvenient."

Still, assuming that this excuse works, it can create a very dangerous precedent for the future administrations. First, both the White House and the Congress will no longer try to make something work. Rather, they will try to create and to abuse as many legal loopholes as possible, and thus it will be a game of cat-and-mouse that will throw the U.S. more and more into gridlock.

Second, as long as the U.S. can get a fig leaf of working under some sort of international authorization and as long as the U.S. does not engage in direct hostilities, then the Congress can do nothing but to accept the argument that as the U.S. is not engaged in "hostilities."

The next few days will be very interesting. Both the Republicans and the Democrats will be put in a bind. With the election looming next year, they have to tread the line very carefully.

In the meantime, Rome is burning...

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