We are at war with Libya. We are using our Air Force to drop bombs on Libyan soil. We are using unmanned drones to drop bombs on Libyan soil. We are launching Tomahawk missiles at Libyan soil. Libyan civilians are being killed, in the thousands, by our bombs, on Libyan soil. If we came close enough that Libyan forces could do us harm, they would. We are at war with Libya.
Unfortunately, President Obama disagrees with me (this does not happen very often). He contends that our engagements in Libya are not war, they’re… they’re… well they’re not war. He says since U.S. forces aren’t in jeopardy, it doesn’t count (Unilateral war isn’t war? Good one). That pretty much sums up what he’s told us so far.
Why doesn’t Obama want to call our engagements in Libya war? Because if these are acts of war, he would be required by both the Constitution and the War Powers Act of 1973 to seek congressional approval to continue. He doesn’t think he would get that approval, so he’s avoiding seeking it.
Now there is something to be said for that. I think we can all agree that Libya was just a few steps away from full-on genocide when coalition forces first intervened. On the other hand, NATO forces responded and are in fact still overseeing operations in Libya. Just because we can get involved, doesn’t mean we should. We are in the midst of an economic stall, one that is only worsened by political divisiveness and stalemates.
Also, given the massive sums of money that we’ve spent on wars over the last ten years alone, and the number of innocent civilians we’ve slaughtered in the process (whoever calls them “surgical airstrikes” can operate on someone else), it doesn’t seem so unreasonable that the American people have a say in where we get involved. Congress, as representatives of the people, needs to have the opportunity to speak on their behalf. My guess is that at this point in time, given the state of the economy, their answer to the question of whether we should be involved might be a resounding “HELL NO!” Then again, given the fact that as a NATO ally we are at least partially obligated to offer assistance, they might vote to have our military act in a strictly support role.
But I speculate. The point is this- the reason the Constitution and the War Powers Act require the approval of the legislative branch is to keep the decision of whether our country starts or engages in armed conflicts with other countries in the hands of many, as opposed to the hands of just one. These provisions are what solidify our country as a democracy, rather than some sort of military dictatorship. When I hear that Obama is ordering airstrikes in Libya without congressional approval because he was somehow able to finagle out of the definition of “war”, it feels extremely undemocratic to me, not to mention that it smacks of total bullshit.
I, like Obama, do believe that the U.S. can be a force for good in the world. However, I think if we are going to exercise our power internationally then it needs to be in a carefully regulated and well-thought out manner, preferably a democratic one. Simply manufacturing and taking advantage of a loophole is not well- thought out. In this instance, it opens the door to attack anyone on a whim, so long as we’re careful not to come into firing distance of those we want to attack. By that reasoning, we could send a stealth bomber to drop another nuke on Hiroshima, and it wouldn’t be a problem, because that is not an act of war. Yeah, that makes sense. Wait. No.
Painfully. Slow. Progress.