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Two Wrongs on Libya Won’t Make a Right


Since the day President Obama began his military escapade against Libya on March 19, members of Congress have expressed indignation because they were not consulted. Not, mind you, because they necessarily oppose any of the wars the United States has been or is currently involved in, but because they were not asked to sign off on the military action.

Now, over three months and hundreds of millions of dollars later, Congress is beginning to take action. But is that a good thing?

House Speaker, John Boehner sent a letter to the president warning him that he was out of time under the War Powers Act that says the president must terminate a military mission ninety days after notifying Congress that troops have been deployed into some hostility.

Boehner also says that the president lacks the support of members of the House for authorizing the Libyan military operation.

Several House members are backing measures to cut off funds for the Libyan intervention (with exceptions, of course).

Ten lawmakers (seven Republicans and three Democrats) have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order the president to pull out of the Libya campaign because Congress didn’t authorize it.

A bipartisan resolution in the Senate would allow the Libyan operation to continue for one year.

A similar resolution has also been introduced in the House, along with another resolution that would require withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Libyan operation within fifteen days of passage.

The White House has issued a report asserting the president’s authority to continue the Libyan military intervention without congressional approval because American involvement falls short of full-blown hostilities.

Congress, of course, is right in insisting that it is the governmental body that should make the decision to go to war. Something called the Constitution says so. The fact that the Obama administration refuses to call its Libyan foray a war while U.S. drones fire missiles into Libya is ludicrous. Any missile fired by any country at the United States would be considered an act of war.

But Congress errs in two respects.

First, a congressional authorization to use force is not a constitutional declaration of war.

The United States has declared war on other countries only eleven times encompassing five conflicts: Great Britain in 1812 (the War of 1812), Mexico in 1848 (the Mexican War), Spain in 1898 (the Spanish-American War), Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1917 (World War I), and Japan, Germany, and Italy in 1941 and Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania in 1942 (World War II).

Although the United States has fought many wars and undertaken scores more military interventions since World War II, we haven’t actually declared war on a country since that “good war.” Congress has instead abrogated its responsibility and issued congressional authorizations for the president to use force: Eisenhower in 1955 (Taiwan) and 1957 (the Middle East), Kennedy in 1962 (Cuba and Berlin), Johnson in 1965 (Vietnam), George H.W. Bush in 1991 (Iraq), and George W. Bush in 2001 (Afghanistan) and 2002 (Iraq).

Sometimes Congress hasn’t issued anything, like when Truman fought a full-scale war in Korea in the early 1950s, Eisenhower sent Marines to Lebanon in 1958, Johnson sent Marines to the Dominican Republic in 1965, Nixon invaded Cambodia in 1970, Reagan invaded Grenada in 1983, Bush invaded Panama in 1989, and Clinton sent troops to Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999.

And then there are all the other cases of the misuse of the military during and after the Cold War.

But second, and more important, two wrongs on Libya won’t make a right.

Even if the president came to Congress and Congress voted to approve of military action in Libya, issue an authorization to use military force, or declare war on Libya — the president’s military action in Libya would still be unconstitutional, hypocritical, and wrong.

Where in the Constitution does it authorize the U.S. government to intervene militarily in other countries? The preamble to the Constitution says that one reason the Constitution was “ordained and established” was to “provide for the common defense.” To this end, Article I, section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power to “raise and support Armies,” “provide and maintain a Navy,” “make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces,” “provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions,” and “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia.” Getting involved in foreign wars was anathema to the Framers. What does intervening in Libya have to do with providing for the common defense of the United States? Absolutely nothing, of course. The president doesn’t even claim it does. Our military mission in Libya is supposed to be to protect civilians, provide humanitarian assistance, and — whether publicly admitted or not — further our diplomatic goal of regime change.

It is the height of hypocrisy for the U.S. government to intervene militarily in Libya for humanitarian concerns. Why Libya and not China? Doesn’t China limit its families to having one child? Hasn’t this also resulted in countless numbers of abortions, some of them forced? And where was the United States when Chairman Mao was killing his millions? Why Libya and not Saudi Arabia? Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive a car. Shouldn’t we liberate Saudi women from such a blatant violation of their human rights? And where was our humanitarian concern when it came to Darfur and Rwanda? Thousands would still be alive if we had sent in the Marines. And what about when Stalin built the White Sea Canal with slave labor? Where was our humanitarian concern when he worked tens of thousands to their deaths? The terrible truth is that U.S. government humanitarian concerns are very selective. And, of course, untold multitudes of people are poor, oppressed, hungry, persecuted, and in danger all over the world right now. The United States can’t possibly alleviate all the suffering and injustice in the world.

But not only can’t the United States alleviate all the suffering and injustice in the world, it is neither the purpose of the U.S. military or the U.S. government to do so even if it were possible. Although it would be a terrible thing if Gaddafi imprisoned, beat, starved, tortured, enslaved, or killed any of the Libyan people, it is not the business of the United States. And the same is true if any other dictator or oppressive regime did the same thing. Individual Americans may be outraged, but that still doesn’t make it the business of the U.S. government and its military. And what if more Americans than are outraged are either sympathetic or indifferent? What then? The United States is not morally obligated to intervene in any country, militarily or otherwise. Americans who are troubled over injustice and oppression throughout the world have several options. They can financially support resistance movements or, as the case may be, relief efforts. They can go and fight or provide humanitarian aid themselves. They can pray for the oppressive regime to fall and/or for the safety of children, refugees, or civilians in harm’s way. If they feel that strongly, they should do all these things. But one thing they shouldn’t do is expect other Americans to pay for it in blood and treasure through government intervention.

Needless to say, the United States should cease any and all military activity, directly or indirectly, that relates to Libya. And while we’re at it, stop meddling and intervening in the rest of the world as well. The United States is not the world’s policeman, fireman, security guard, or social worker, whether Congress affirms it or not. Two wrongs won’t make a right.

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