Hillary Clinton on why no congressional authorization is required for war in Libya

Originally posted elsewhere on 3/28/2011

In a recent appearance on ABC’s This Week, Hillary addressed the fact that the Obama administration has not sought Congressional authorization for the war in Libya. In her words:

Well, we would welcome congressional support, but I don’t think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama were — was speaking of several years ago.

I think that this had a limited time frame, a very clearly defined mission which we are in the process of fulfilling.

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Obama’s paradoxical stance on becoming militarily involved in Libya

Originally posted by me elsewhere on 3/29/2011

The Military Mission

The key paradox of Obama’s address is encapsulated in this excerpt:

Because while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.

Why is this a paradox? Our military mission does not encompass the overthrow of Muammar Qadaffi. Yet the people who are rebelling against Qadaffi’s rule will not be safe as long as Qadaffi is in power.

Although Obama stresses that the U.S. will pursue the “broader goal” of remvoing Qaddaffi from power, he makes it clear that he intends on working toward regime change in a non-violent manner. He is quite explicit about this, saying:

… there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

Qadaffi’s regime is not the first tyrranical regime that we have tried to undermine through non-violent means. But despite years of sanctions and strongly worded statements of disapproval directed at various regimes, I can’t say that this approach has been particularly fruitful. Furthermore if our fervent wish is for Qadaffi to leave office without us taking up arms against him, why on earth are we simultaneously stating that International community is going to arrest him and his sons and charge them with crimes against humanity? How is that encouraging him to leave office of his own accord? I’m just not seeing the “smart diplomacy.”

Which branch of the federal government is responsible for authorizing military force against another nation?

In 2007 Senator Obama is on record as saying:

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.

Senator Obama was referring to the fact that the U.S. Constitution invests the legislative branch, not the executive branch, with the power of deciding whether to take up arms against another nation. In his Libyan address, Obama makes the case that:

To brush aside… our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are… And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made it clear that he does not believe the Libyan situation constitutes a threat to the U.S. or our vital interests. When this is the case, it should be left to Congress to decide what our responsibilities to our fellow human beings are. The president also stated:

…after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

Again, the U.S. Constitution invests the entire Congress with the power of authorizing military action. Chatting with a subset of Congress and then taking unilateral action is operating in direct contradiction to the Constitution as Senator Obama himself pointed out.

Replacing Congressional Authorization with International Authorization

Obama also made the case that U.S. military intervention was required to preserve the prestige and efficacy of the United Nations. As he stated:

The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security.

Again, shouldn’t it be Congress who decides what course of action we will take, if any, to preserve the prestige and efficacy of the U.N.? Furthermore, it is Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter that states that the U.N. Security Council:

… may take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Note that this passage of the U.N. Charter is explicitly about maintaining international peace between member nations while respecting an individual nation’s sovereignty. But it seems that the meaning of this passage has changed over time. At any rate, I am alarmed that Obama feels it is important to get buy-in from the international community for our attacks on Libya, but it’s not necessary to get buy-in from the Congress or the American people.

If you missed Obama’s address, a full transcript of Obama’s Libya address is located here. A video of his address can be found at YouTube.

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