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Kucinich Calls the Question on Libya War Powers

10:53 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Last week, voting on amendments on the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives began taking action to limit U.S. military involvement in Libya’s civil war.

Now the House leadership has agreed to a vote on House Concurrent Resolution 51, introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, which would direct the President, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, to remove U.S. armed forces from the Libya war. The vote could come as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The U.S. military intervention in Libya was never authorized by Congress, and thus violates U.S. law and the U.S. Constitution.

Some have argued that other Presidents have violated the War Powers Resolution, therefore it is no big deal. This is a breathtaking argument on its face: “everyone breaks the law.” But moreover, as the New York Times noted on May 25:

many presidents, citing their power as commander in chief, have bypassed a section that says they need prior Congressional authorization to deploy forces into hostilities, except if the country is under attack. But there is far less precedent of presidents’ challenging another section that says they must terminate any still-unauthorized operations after 60 days. In 1980, the Justice Department concluded that the deadline was constitutional. [my emphasis]

On May 20, the New York Times reported, referring to the 1980 Justice Department memorandum,

Such opinions are binding on the executive branch unless they are superseded by the Justice Department or the president.

When the 60 day limit expired, Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 and 2004, said:

“this appears to be the first time that any president has violated the War Powers Resolution’s requirement either to terminate the use of armed forces within 60 days after the initiation of hostilities or get Congress’s support”

Unfortunately, as a practical matter – whether we like it or not – Congressional war powers are not “self-enforcing.” The legal history strongly suggests that courts will not intervene if Congress fails to take action.

That’s why the war powers measure introduced by Representative Kucinich is so important. It represents the first opportunity for Members of the House not just to vote against further escalation, not just to affirm that the war was never authorized, but to vote directly to bring U.S. military participation in the war to an end. You can urge your Representative to support House Concurrent Resolution 51 here.

Last week, by the lopsided vote of 416-5, the House adopted an amendment initiated by Michigan Representative John Conyers to the defense authorization prohibiting the introduction into Libya of U.S. ground troops (that is, uninformed forces, not Special Forces or CIA that are already there.)

The House also adopted by voice vote – that is, without dissent – an amendment introduced by Rep. Scott Garrett [R-NJ] affirming that “Nothing in this Act or any amendment made by this Act shall be construed to authorize military operations in Libya.”

Jake Tapper of ABC News reported that these lopsided results in the House suggested that the Kucinich resolution calling for US military withdrawal from the Libya conflict in accordance with the War Powers Resolution could pass the House.

The decisions by the Administration to go to war in Libya without Congressional authorization, and then to continue U.S. military involvement past the 60 day limit of the War Powers Resolution, if not challenged by Congress, will set a dangerous precedent. Urge your Representative to vote yes on House Concurrent Resolution 51.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Conyers: Congress Should Bar U.S. Ground Troops From Libya

2:33 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

In the wake of President Obama’s decision to go to war in Libya without Congressional authorization or debate, there’s a heightened level of public and media cynicism about the ability of any Congress to constrain any Administration on warmaking in any way whatsoever.

This is dangerous. It’s important for Congress to assert its war powers: important to prevent the U.S. from being sucked into another quagmire, important to build pressure for a negotiated resolution in Libya by shutting down the possibility of further military escalation, important for future efforts to prevent and limit U.S. wars that Congress act affirmatively to impose limits.

Unfortunately, the approach of the Administration has limited Congress’ options. Apparently the Administration does not intend to respect the limits Congress enacted in the War Powers Resolution. Thus, although every measure pursued by Members of Congress helps in some way to limit the Administration by adding political pressure, there is a specific need for measures that can attract majority support: the Administration cannot ignore action by the majority that has the force of law.
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How Many Should Die To Send Qaddafi to the Hague?

11:52 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Here is a question I would like pollsters to ask American voters about the Libya War:

Is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for?

I haven’t seen any pollster ask this question. Indeed, the fact that sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a de facto military goal of the United States in Libya isn’t even being clearly acknowledged yet in the U.S. media.

However, we can make an educated guess what he response might be, because a Quinnipiac University poll recently asked some questions that are closely related.

Voters say 61 – 30 percent that removing Qaddafi from power is not worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, the poll reports. They say 48 – 41 percent that the U.S. should not use military force to remove Qaddafi from power. Furthermore, 74 percent of voters are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that the U.S. will get embroiled in a long-term military conflict in Libya.

This strongly suggests that if American voters were asked, is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, more than 61% would say no and fewer than 30 percent would say yes. Because sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a military objective that includes removing Qaddafi and more.

Yet, with a super-majority of Americans opposed and without Congressional authorization, that is what we are doing: fighting a war to remove Qaddafi from power and send him to the Hague.

It’s very likely that you wouldn’t know this if your only source of information were the U.S. press, which hasn’t been reporting on the divisions among US allies on what an acceptable agreement to end the war would be. But the British press is reporting it.
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Contrary to the President, Removal of Qaddafi is the Military Objective

1:01 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The most important content of Presidential speeches is often what they don’t say. Here are some things that President Obama didn’t say about Libya in his speech last night.

The President did not answer his critics who asked why he took America into war without authorization by Congress. This question was made sharper on Sunday when Jake Tapper of ABC asked Defense Secretary Gates,

“Do you think Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States?”

“No, no,” was Gates’ reply. “It was not – it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about.”

The significance of Tapper’s question was that Tapper used the exact language that Obama used as a candidate for President in describing the limits of the authority of the President under the Constitution to initiate hostilities without Congressional authorization:

“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.”

Apparently Defense Secretary Gates does not think that the situation in Libya met the standard that candidate Obama set in December 2007 for acting without Congressional authorization.

But in President’s Obama’s speech, the word “Congress” was only mentioned once: the President says he ordered military action “after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress.” Of course, a meeting with Congressional leaders is not at all the same thing as Congressional debate and authorization. Congressional debate and authorization allows the public to have a say through their representatives. A meeting with Congressional leaders does not. This military operation was planned for weeks and discussed with other countries for weeks; there was plenty of time to seek Congressional approval.

The President did not in his speech clarify what the exit strategy is.

He told us “the lead” will “transition to our allies and partners.” But the US is the lead country in NATO, which is taking responsibility for the military operation. As long as NATO is fighting in Libya, the U.S. is fighting in Libya, and U.S. taxpayers are paying for it. Others will be paying too, but the consolation of knowing that others will be sharing your burden is decreased substantially if no-one will tell you how big the burden will be.

Nor did the President clarify what the true military objective is. The President said, “our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives.”

But as the New York Times reports, “Even as President Obama on Monday described a narrower role for the United States in a NATO-led operation,” the US military has been carrying out an “expansive and increasingly potent air campaign,” amounting to “an all-out assault on Libya’s military.”

According to the Times, the real military mission is this:

The strategy for White House officials nervous that the Libya operation could drag on for weeks or months, even under a NATO banner, is to hit Libyan forces hard enough to force them to oust Colonel Qaddafi, a result that Mr. Obama has openly encouraged.

According to the Times, the US has established a military strategy of removing Qaddafi from power indirectly: keep killing Libyan soldiers until they demand that Qaddafi leave.

The Administration says this is not going beyond what was approved by the UN Security Council. But that doesn’t pass the laugh test. The UN Security Council never approved a military mission to overthrow the Libyan government.

Now that removal of Qaddafi has apparently been established as a U.S. military objective, suppose that the current means of achieving this military objective – keep killing Libyan soldiers until they demand that Qaddafi leave – fails to achieve it. Which is more likely, in the absence of an external constraint: that the U.S. will abandon this military objective, or that the U.S. will pursue more aggressive military means to achieve it?

This is why Congress should pass legislation now limiting the scope of the U.S. military operation in Libya, whether by prohibiting the introduction of ground troops, or by establishing a timetable or financial cap beyond which the Administration will have to seek explicit Congressional authorization. In the absence of Congressional action, if we get to a point where the Administration concedes that achievement of its military objective would require further military escalation, it may be too late politically to stop that escalation.