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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.

In Libya, Diplomacy Could Save Lives and the World Economy

10:18 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman


LIBYAN MONEY by Libda's Gallery, on Flickr

Secretary of State Clinton defended the State Department budget in Congress this week by pointing out that diplomatic interventions can prevent expensive wars. Now the State Department has a spectacular opportunity to demonstrate Secretary Clinton’s argument by example. It can support robust diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya without a further escalation in violence.

Pipe dream? The Wall Street Journal reports today that the price of oil fell on world markets when Al Jazeera reported that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had accepted a plan proposed by Venezuela that called for a multinational commission to mediate the conflict with rebel groups; Reuters reports that Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the peace plan was “under consideration.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that peace is about to break out. For example, a leader of the rebels has reportedly rejected the call for peace.

But here are some facts that should create an opening for diplomacy: the armed rebels seem to have very little military prospect of taking Tripoli. The Libyan government seems to have very little military prospect of retaking most rebel-held territory…
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Speaker Pelosi, War Funding Next Week is No “Emergency”

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is committed to passing an emergency war supplemental before the July Fourth recess, Roll Call reports.

Let us be perfectly clear, as President Obama might say. There is no "emergency" requiring the House to throw another $33 billion into our increasingly bloody and pointless occupation of Afghanistan before we all go off to celebrate the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from foreign occupation.

This fact – that there is no emergency requiring an immediate appropriation – is absolutely critical, because the claim that there is some "emergency" requiring an immediate infusion of cash, otherwise there will be some new apocalyptic catastrophe, is the means by which the Pentagon and the White House hope to dodge two sets of questions about the war supplemental urgently being asked by Democratic leaders in the House.

Secretary Gates has complained that if the war money is not approved by July 4, the Pentagon might have to do "stupid things" like furlough civilian Pentagon employees. I am not in favor of furloughs, even of Pentagon employees (can we furlough someone who approves breaking into Afghans’ homes in the middle of the night and killing pregnant women?), but as "stupid" goes, furloughing Pentagon employees doesn’t hold a candle to laying off public school teachers, which is the likely consequence of allowing the Pentagon and the White House dodge their critics in the House.

The war funding proposal has been sitting in the inbox for six months. What kind of "emergency" is that? The $33 billion represents about five percent of the gargantuan Pentagon budget. The Pentagon can live with a little more delay, while we get answers to some urgent questions.

The first set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: now that we’ve dumped McChrystal, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Yesterday, thirty Members of the House sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, demanding that the questions about the war raised by Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article be answered before the House votes on the Pentagon’s request for more money.

According to Hastings’ article, "Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further." A senior military official says, "There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer," which is a pants-on-fire contradiction to the promises made when the last increase of forces was announced. Meanwhile, McChrystal’s Chief of Operatons, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, said: "It’s not going to look like a win…This is going to end in an argument." If it’s going to end in an argument anyway – Mayville is surely right – why shed more blood? Don’t we have a right and obligation to demand a straightforward and concrete accounting of what the additional bloodshed is purportedly going to achieve?

Ninety-eight Members of the House – almost a quarter – have now signed on to legislation demanding that President Obama establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Shall the House not debate establishing a timetable for military withdrawal before voting on more money for pointless killing?

The second set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: what the hell is the federal government doing about Main Street’s economic crisis? While it is not the responsibility of the Pentagon to do something about Main Street’s economic crisis, it is the obligation of the Pentagon to defend more Pentagon spending as the best use of public resources, at a time when states and local governments are looking at mass layoffs of public employees, including school teachers.

This is the question that House Appropriations chair David Obey put on the table when he said he would sit on the war appropriation until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

But on money to save teachers’ jobs, the White House is still Absent Without Leave, hiding behind the purported threat of a Senate filibuster, just as it did on the public option for health insurance. If it fought for teachers, the White House could win. But it isn’t fighting, because unlike the war funding, teachers’ jobs are not a White House priority.

If we want this to change, Obey has to be able to make good on his threat. And that means the House has to be willing to call the Pentagon’s bluff.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.