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Friday, June 17, 2011
Obama's Subversion Of War Powers
The US is involved in 'hostilities' against Libya, which demands a vote in Congress. The president is in breach of the constitution
By Tom Rogan
The Obama administration's report into the Libya conflict described it not as a war, but as a mission to remove Gaddafi from power. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters
On Wednesday, the White House provided Congress with a report on US operations in Libya. This report claims that the US military's ongoing involvement in Libya does not amount to "hostilities" and, as such, does not require the approval of Congress. In this assertion, the Obama administration is engaging in legal spin of the worst kind.
While the president is the commander-in-chief of the US military, since the passage of the War Powers Resolution in 1973, Congress has required that the president seek congressional approval for combat operations continuing after a period of 60 days. This resolution expanded the implied authority of Congress that stems from the constitutional power of Congress to declare war. While the US supreme court has not visited the constitutionality of the War Powers Resolution, the resolution's precedence has motivated all presidents since Nixon to seek approval (if sometimes indirectly) for relevant US military deployments abroad. This included President George W Bush with regard to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the case of Iraq, while a senator, Obama was inclined to a highly assertive consideration of the reach of congressional war authority. In this context, that the Obama administration is now arguing US military involvement in Libya does not require authorisation from Congress is patently absurd. In terms of both material support and strategy, the US is unquestionably engaged in hostilities against the Libyan regime.
Considering material support, the US contribution is clear. The administration report argues that because US forces are not engaged in sustained fighting, America's military forces are not engaged in "hostilities". This is either stupidity or a blatant misrepresentation of the nature of conflict. The ongoing US commitment to coalition operations in Libya includes the provision of heavy logistics support (predominantly airlift), command and control capabilities, 70% of the coalition's intelligence-gathering assets and predator drone assets. Further, as the Obama administration itself reports, the US provides "a majority of its refuelling assets, enabling coalition aircraft to stay in the air longer and undertake more strikes".
These US military assets enable the coalition to wage war against Gaddafi. Without American support, the coalition's military efficacy would be substantially degraded. In the same way that intelligence from US ground forces in Afghanistan enables air strikes against the Taliban, by providing coalition allies with intelligence on Gaddafi regime targets, the US plays a direct and critical role in the destruction of those targets. To argue that applied intelligence and logistics are not crucial elements of hostilities is to ignore every military thinker from Sun Tzu to Petraeus.
Considering US strategy, the intention of US operations in Libya is also abundantly clear. While the administration argues in its report and following interviews that US military actions are inherently focused on protection of civilians, the practical strategic objective is obviously the removal of Gaddafi from power and the end of his regime. In a textbook Clausewitzian sense, by destroying the Libyan military, the coalition is seeking to remove Gaddafi's means of resistance and force his compliance with the coalition's will. The coalition is not simply protecting defined humanitarian safe zones; it is waging war.
The US political consensus on Libya has been weak and unconventional from the start, involving for example, cross-party alliances between normal polar opposites like Kucinich and Boehner. However, by plying Congress with excuses devoid of truth and logic instead of attempts at consensus and engagement, the Obama administration is not only failing to lead, it is asserting a profound, hypocritical and dangerous expansion of executive power. The American people deserve better.
This commentary was published in The Guardian on 17/06/2011