Thoughts on Libya
I took a day off from blogging yesterday, just to hang out with my 4 grandsons. It was well worth it. But I wasn’t with them the entire time and during that other time it gave me a bet of an opportunity to reflect on the decision to go to war with Libya. And, yes, I said war – no “kinetic military action” or “limited time, limited scope military action” nonsense from me. When you fire missiles into a sovereign country, regardless of how you feel about what that country’s government is doing, you commit an act of war.
I obviously don’t come from the “war never settles anything” crowd. I’ve made a study of war, spent 28 years serving in the military and understand the reality of and reasons for wars. And, yes, I believe – and history supports my belief – that sometimes war does settle some things, although not necessarily the way we’d prefer they be settled.
But to focus on Libya in particular, what I see here is probably one of the most dangerous precedents yet for committing our military and country too an action. It is dangerous for any number of reasons. But I’ll lay out the first by quoting Secretary of Defense Gates today:
Asked on NBC whether the mission in Libya was vital to U.S. interests, Gates said: “No, I don’t think it’s a vital interest for the United States, but we clearly have interests there and it’s a part of the region, which is a vital interest for the United States.”
Whatever our “clear” interests there are, and Gates didn’t elaborate, they’re not “vital interests” for this nation. Or said another way, there is nothing going on in Libya that would threaten anything we’d consider to vital to our national interests, survival, etc. Nothing. So what follows is a bit of Gate’s word salad that attempts to rationalize the intervention there.
TAPPER: " Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?"
GATES: "No, no. It was not — it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest: … the engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake … [Y]ou had a potentially significantly destabilizing event taking place in Libya that put at risk potentially the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt."
“Not a vital national interest”, “potentially significant”? Posed no “actual or imminent threat to the United States”.
The first and only reason for going to war should be a threat to our vital national interests. Otherwise we should have no interest in going to war.
One of the things that particularly peeved the left about the Iraq invasion was their claim that it did not serve our vital national interests. I can’t tell you how many times I heard them say “Iraq was never a threat to us”. And that was more true than not when we discovered the lack of WMDs eventually. Prior to that, and with the rise of terrorism, not to mention his overt and covert support of terrorism, most who supported the invasion felt that those elements (WMD, rise of terrorism, support of terrorism) and his grudge against the US did indeed make him a threat to our nation.
Obviously, he turned out to be more blow than go, but it doesn’t change the fact that there were indeed, at least initially, rational national security reasons that could be argued for taking him out.
There are none for Libya. None.
And don’t forget we had evidence that Saddam’s government was systematically killing people on a pretty large scale at the time as well. Reports of mass arrests, mass graves, rape rooms and feeding people through wood chippers were pretty commons. But that, in and of itself, was not enough of a reason, as far as the left was concerned, to intervene (remember, at the time we were enforcing a no-fly zone while these things were going on).
Given the pretext for going into Libya (for exactly that reason – i.e. the government is killing civilians), the invasion of Iraq stood on much firmer national security grounding.
And that’s really my point here – any action/war to which our military is committed should first meet the requirement of “compelling national interest” as in an immediate threat to the US either militarily or in other ways which will severely effect the country and its citizens.
Libya does not rise to that level.
Which brings me to my second point. The role of the UN in this and the lack of a Congressional role. Again, say what you like about Iraq, but anyone who calls it an “illegal war” does so out of pure spite because it simply isn’t true. The war was literally authorized by Congress when it told the Commander in Chief he had the power and authorization to use military force there. Now that may not satisfy some who demand that a declaration of war be issued, but for the rest of us who can reason, we understand that’s precisely what the AUMF was.
In the case of Libya, the authorization this administration used was that of an external body unanswerable to the Congress of the US or its people. I don’t recall the Constitution allowing that. While I understand the war powers act gives a president some discretion in committing the US military without immediate Congressional approval, I’m not sure this measures up (but that is an argument for another day) to even that. What I do know, though, is on the 61st day of this war, if Congress doesn’t authorize its continuance and the president refuses to end our involvement, it will become an illegal war.
More importantly though, I object strenuously to the use of the UN as a reason to commit our men and women to conflict. That is a decision for Congress and the President to work out first. If the UN goes along, or even if it doesn’t, is really irrelevant if Congress and the President decide – for compelling national interest – to commit us to a war. That is our process and it was not used this time by any stretch of the imagination. Telling Congress what is happening when it is happening isn’t at all the definition of “in consultation with Congress”.
Finally there’s the rationalization that’s going on about Libya and our reason for participating in attacking it. And it is simply amazing. It speaks to a completely arbitrary standard for such intervention.
“No,” Clinton said, when asked on the CBS “Face the Nation” program if the U.S. would intervene in Syria’s unrest. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s security forces clashed with protesters in several cities yesterday after his promises of freedoms and pay increases failed to prevent dissent from spreading across the country.
Clinton said the elements that led to intervention in Libya — international condemnation, an Arab League call for action, a United Nations Security Council resolution — are “not going to happen” with Syria, in part because members of the U.S. Congress from both parties say they believe Assad is “a reformer.”
“What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning, but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities,” Clinton said, referring to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s attacks on the Libyan people, “than police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”
Is there a difference to the dead citizens in Syria, Ms. Clinton? Does it mean that as long as Assad – the “reformer” (good grief) – keeps his air power grounded, indiscriminate killing of civilians will be tolerated? Because that certainly is what that sound bite suggests. Oh, and a few lawmakers calling a murderous tyrant a “reformer” apparently carries a lot of weight.
So, what have we as a result?
We have the US military fighting at the behest of the UN. We have no vital national interest in the war. It appears to be the result of the application of an arbitrary standard. It was committed too without consulting Congress and on the 61st day without Congressional approval, it becomes an illegal war.
Does that all sound like something we should support and encourage?