Operation WTF

The Obama administration may call it Operation Odyssey Dawn, but I think my name is more appropriate. This is Obama’s war. Worse, it’s a war seemingly without a legitimate foreign policy goal; it also follows the administration’s lack of real outrage at the release, by the British government, of the Lockerbie terrorist al-Megrahi (who still hasn’t croaked). Full Disclosure: I would love to see Qaddafi hanged as a war criminal and have his head on top of a pike. Unfortunately, we have no idea if removing Qaddafi is even Obama’s goal. And if history is used as a guide, then Obama’s war is a big mistake.

A slew of Congressional Democrats, many of whom were against Operation Iraqi Freedom, are “questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya”. Dennis Kucinich has also raised the specter of impeachment, although the likelihood of that happening are just about nil.

As far as I can tell, it isn’t clear if Obama has technically followed the letter of the law to begin launching missiles against against Libya. And since the War Powers Resolution (WPR) has been activated, the clock is ticking. Plus, there are questions on whether the President is legally justified in introducing U.S. forces into combat on such a thin premise as the one the administration claims.

Sec. 3 of the WPR requires the President to consult with Congress before any military action is launched. It isn’t clear from any report I’ve seen that this has been done; neither the piece in Politico or this one at ABC News help out here, although this piece could arguably make the claim that Obama did consult with Congress. For the sake of argument, let’s assume he did (the Politico did report that Pelosi and others are supporting Obama, so it’s possible). Sec. 4(a) requires Obama to submit a report within 48 hours of the start of an operation; that would be tomorrow. If there is no further action by Congress, and provided the President has adhered to the WPR, military action must end after 60 days.

Case law doesn’t help, but part of that may be due to mixed messages from Congress. The most relevant case is Campbell, et al. v. Clinton; Tom Campbell, a former Republican congressman from California, filed the suit with 25 other members of the House of Representatives. It had to do with President Clinton launching missile strikes for more than 60 days against Kosovo (in what was then Yugoslavia) in 1999 without authorization from Congress. However, the case was not dismissed on the merits, but due to lack of standing. The D.C. Circuit District Court ruled that because Congress had funded the operation with a supplemental appropriation, this was tantamount to Congressional approval, even though resolutions for a declaration of war against Yugoslavia and an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) had been rejected; the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court ruling. At this point in regards to Obama’s Libya operation, time and actions from Congress will determine whether a case on the merits can be made.

So far, the only justification from Obama has been to stop Qaddafi’s brutality against those Libyans rebelling against the long-time dictator. There is no other apparent U.S. interest, other than all this is supposedly humanitarian in nature. This was the case nearly 20 years ago when President George H. W. Bush sent 25,000 troops into Somalia on a humanitarian effort, except Bush did not intend for the military to engage in combat operations (other than to land troops in Somalia). After Bill Clinton took over as President, he worked with the UN to change the humanitarian mission into an experiment in nation building; it was a bloody failure (I discuss it more fully here). In the case of Libya, it appears the U.S. and other countries are using combat operations to establish some kind of perimeter with which to launch a humanitarian effort, necessary since there is a civil war going on. But there is no U.S. interest that I can see with this operation. In fact, it contradicts a statement then-Sen. Obama made when the possibility of President George W. Bush launching missile strikes against Iran for that country’s illegal nuclear weapons program was being discussed:

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” the memo quotes then-Senator Obama saying on Dec. 20, 2007.

As we’ve seen since then, Iran has gotten closer and closer towards having nuclear weapons, something the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, has done little to curtail. So the threat from Iran has grown considerably since Obama said those words.

In another contradiction, the UN resolution in question doesn’t call for Qaddafi’s ouster, despite the fact that on March 3rd, Obama demanded Qaddafi step down. So now we have no idea what is to be accomplished.

I’m reminded of an episode during the Hundred Years War (which of course, lasted 116 years; 1337 – 1453). The war started when King Edward III of England laid claim to the throne of France when his uncle King Charles IV had died in 1328. Through his mother Queen Isabella of England (wife of King Edward II), Edward’s grandfather was King Philip IV of France. None of Philip’s sons had sons of their own to succeed them. French nobles designated Charles’ first cousin Philip to become the next king of France (King Philip VI, of the house of Valois). In 1337, Edward began the Hundred Years war in order to gain the French crown. After nearly 20 years and many crushing victories over the French (including the huge victory at Crécy in 1346), Edward was no closer to his goal; by then, Philip had died in 1350 and his son had succeeded as King John II of France. But in 1356, King Edward’s eldest son, the Prince of Wales (Edward, the Black Prince), whipped John and the French at the Battle of Poitiers, capturing the French king (and many French nobles) and bringing John back to England as a prisoner (he was treated well). But even with the King of France in custody, King Edward was still no closer to the French throne.

Worse yet, Edward had a diplomatic problem on his hands with not only King John in custody, but Scotland’s King David II as well (this was from a war not related to Edward’s war with France). Plus, French peasants began an uprising in 1358 that was called the Jacquerie (attributed to a contemporary French historian of the time, Jean Froissart); it was ruthlessly crushed by the French nobles. Without a clear and victorious outcome, King Edward did the next best thing; he somewhat renounced his claim to the French throne and demanded a ransom from France for King John’s return (the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360), which was duly paid (I say somewhat renounced because Edward never did fully relinquish his claim, and by 1369, the war was back on; up until 1801, English kings and queens had added the title King (or Queen) of France as part of their royal titles, despite the fact that no English monarch ever did sit on the French throne, with the exception of the English King Henry VI for a short time around 1422).

Because he could never make good his claims, King Edward III found himself in a foreign policy conundrum. But while Edward did have a clear policy (getting crowned King of France), President Obama has no policy and a whole lot of mixed messages about what the hell is going on. In fact, it is less clear than anything done by the previous administration. It is up to Congress to determine if Obama’s war makes for valid policy, and to end it if there isn’t any benefit for the U.S.