Libya: 100 Days & Counting

During the initial days of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the Bench Jockeys wrote about our take on President Obama’s decision to partner with NATO forces in supporting air strikes in Libya.  (See  and )  Now over 100 days into what was deemed a “limited” operation in Libya, we are still asking:  What is the objective of our military involvement in Libya?

Both Democrats and Republicans oppose the intervention for an array of reasons:

  • the cost of the effort,
  • the potential for escalation and the US long-term role in a prolonged civil war,
  • the message it sends to other countries about the US definition of sovereignty, and
  • the lack of defined objectives

But the true Congressional opposition lies in the potential for unchecked military action in the Executive Branch by the weakening of the War Powers Resolution of 1973 (WPR).  By soft-peddling the President’s actions in Libya, the Administration hasembarked on a troublesome journey along a slippery slope by asserting that the Libyan intervention does not rise to the level of ‘hostilities,’ a term that remains undefined by the WPR.  On behalf of the Administration, State Department legal advisor, Harold Koh, contends that the use of unmanned drones for attack, the limited risk of harm to US forces and the limited ability for Libyan forces to exchange meaningful fire with US forces suggest that the US actions in Libya do not warrant the financial and reporting disclosures mandated by the War Powers Resolution.  In order words: no accountability required.

However, those arguments belie the critical role of Congress in the brave new world of technological warfare.  If we buy what Mr. Koh is selling, all future drone and US-based missile attacks would not technically involve face to face conflict or imperil ground troops, and therefore, such actions would fall outside of Congressional oversight.  However, the use of a faceless military force against another nation does not create any fewer ramifications for the US or its citizens.  The WPR was not simply developed to protect our soldiers from direct harm; it was promulgated to ensure the President did not engage in military action without full accountability and oversight from the Legislative Branch as originally contemplated by Art. 1, Sec 8 of the US Constitution.

History Lesson:   The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was written as a modification of the original War Powers Act of 1941 that FDR initiated which granted him greater authority to reorganize the executive branch, independent government agencies, and government corporations, as well as censor mail and other forms of communication between the United States and foreign countries during World War II.  A Second War Powers Act was passed in 1942 further extending executive branch power, allowing for the acquisition (under condemnation if necessary) of land for military or naval purposes.   In the aftermath of the Korean War and during the last phases of the Vietnam War, Congress re-examined the broad powers conferred by the WPA and drafted the War Powers Resolution of 1973, designed to re-establish the checks and balances associated with the engagement of the US Military consistent with the intent of the Framers of the Constitution.

This week, by a vote of 14-5, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with four Republicans crossing the aisle – Rubio (FL), Inhofe (OK), Isakson (GA), and Barrasso (WY) – authorized US involvement in the NATO-led mission in Libya.  The measure will now go to the Republican-controlled House for consideration. If adopted, SFRC language would permit US involvement in Libya for up to one year, however, there would be no authorized ground support.

Circling back to the WPR [and absent from the majority of the media accounts from the recent SRFC vote]…. Ranking Member, Dick Lugar (IN) addressed Harold Koh/ the Administration’s characterization of the Libyan intervention, and on June 28th, defined the current US military operations in Libya as ‘hostilities’ for the purposes of the War Powers Resolution within the SFRC Resolution .  In doing so, he put a roadblock in the Administration’s interpretation of the Libyan intervention “from becoming an accepted precedent that future administrations may rely on to conduct significant and prolonged military engagements without Congressional authorization.”

We still do not have an answer as to the Executive Branch’s objective in Libya, but we do have some limits on how long the Congressional rope will be.  All I know is that the political landscape has been turned on its axis.  Republican hawks are now calling for stricter oversight in the consideration of military action (the former GOP economic stimulus package) and the dove-loving Democrats are now seeking expansive executive powers in the deployment of military assets on foreign soil.  Could this be the ripple effects of Japan’s earth-tilting earthquake?

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2 Responses to “Libya: 100 Days & Counting”

  1. Steve M Says:

    Either “in it to win it” or stay home and in this case it should be the latter. We need to invest scarce resources where it returns the most impact. There is a long list of domestic concerns that supersede a military role in Lybia – even if it is only an occasional unmanned drone. How many of those drones equal one kid’s education? Political authority is one aspect for consideration. Let’s hope it leads to better international policy and wiser investments. I fear it is just partisan politics.

  2. Mrs. Earl Gray Says:

    Unless something is missing in the paraphrase, Koh’s criteria for justifying unilateral executive branch action could also have been met by dropping an atomic bomb on Libya.

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