Libyan Buzz Kill

There is no question that Qaddafi is a very bad man and we should all rejoice at the crumbling of his regime and his imminent removal from power. And it is hard not be moved by the genuine and justifiable joy and relief expressed by the Libyan people celebrating the demise of a despot. And it is endlessly amusing to watch the Republicans trying to cope with what appears for the moment to be a foreign policy success by President Obama. Particularly noteworthy are the clownish antics of Senators McCain and Graham who have the audacity to criticize the President for not intervening sooner (conveniently ignoring their trip to Libya two years ago when they cozied up to Qaddafi). But it is far too early to claim vindication for Obama's strategy, and many aspects of our involvement in Libya should be deeply troubling. To recap, authorization for action by NATO was based on a United Nations resolution with the ostensible goal to protect civilians who it was claimed, with little in the way of proof, were being massacred by Qaddafi. This objective quickly morphed into support for the rebels and regime change, with more increasingly intensified attacks that undoubtedly killed many civilians. Obama, with an optimism that echoed the Bush Administration contended that hostilities would last mere weeks. More disturbing, if not illegal, was his administration's refusal to consult with Congress as required by the War Powers Act, based on a transparently untenable justification — the lack of any serious threat of U.S. casualties. And while Obama has tried to downplay our role in Libya, as Amy Davidson states, the United States and NATO "have also increased their coordination, and quite a bit." She notes an AP report that refers to our involvement as an "open secret": "Covert forces, private contractors and U.S. intelligence assets were thrown into the fight in an undercover campaign operating separately from the NATO command structure." Even if Obama has been reluctant to admit that we have been involved in "hostilities," Davidson argues, "we have been conducting military activities that aim to overthrow a government; our troops are flying and dropping bombs that kill people-and just because they may be bad people does not make this operation something it isn't." And thus we have achieved what Conor Friedersdorf has called a "Pyrrhic victory" for America: Obama has violated the Constitution; he willfully broke a law that he believes to be constitutional; he undermined his own professed beliefs about executive power, and made it more likely that future presidents will undermine convictions that he purports to hold; in all this, he undermined the rule of law and the balance of powers as set forth by the framers; and he did it all needlessly, because had he gone to Congress at the beginning and asked for permission to wage war they almost certainly would've granted it. I agree with Glenn Greenwald who is "genuinely astounded at the pervasive willingness to view what has happened in Libya as some sort of grand triumph even though virtually none of the information needed to make that assessment is known yet, including: how many civilians have died, how much more bloodshed will there be, what will be needed to stabilize that country and, most of all, what type of regime will replace Qadaffi?" As Davidson concludes: if we are not honest about our role, then how will we assess our responsibility for whatever regime takes Qaddafi's place? Our vagueness about what we are doing encourages a certain incuriousness about whom we are doing it for. The impolite fiction about "no hostilities" might have been sustainable, in a public-relations sense, when the Libyan war was in a stalemate. Now, with armies on the move and cities falling, it has to be reckoned with.

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