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Jun 20 2011

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“Puny-lateralism” at 90 Days

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Not Your Father's Alliance

What had been emerging farce has now become an ironic tragedy.

On Sunday, NATO accepted responsibility for killing nine Libyan civilians, and wounding many more, in an attack on a home in Tripoli.  This is the same NATO that was sanctioned by the UN to intervene in Libya specifically to protect civilians, ostensibly from Muammar Qaddafi.

The incident, which NATO regrets and claims as an accident, is a perfect metaphor for the hubris of the Obama administration and European leaders since the start of the Libyan intervention in March. 

From the beginning, the West was operating on two, inconsistent levels; first, the pious public pronouncements on the need for humanitarian intervention, overlapping with the behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of actually aiding the rebels to end the Qaddafi regime.

This bifurcated narrative was only going to hold together for so long, indeed, only as long as things were going well for the Libyan rebels. 

And as it turns out, the rebels weren’t a modern day incarnation of Patton’s 3rd Army, so the fighting bogged down into stalemate, exposing the serial, glaring shortcomings of Western strategy.

So now we are left to ask how it is possible that a UN resolution that provided NATO authority for a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians morphed into a NATO attack role as the air arm of the Libyan rebels?

On whose authority and with whose approval?

But what makes this bait-and-switch operation particularly galling is that having set out to overthrow Gaddafi, soto voce, NATO  – and that includes the US here – has refused to put the forces in play to reach the unstated goal. 

So, to get this straight, the ultimate goal is to topple the Gaddafi regime, but the military intervention is not supposed to have anything to do with it?

How can objectives, even unstated ones, be so misaligned with resources?

And watching the European members of NATO run this operation is a bit like watching Old Timer’s Day at Yankee stadium; it’s not bad for nostalgia, but it’s downright painful when you realize the decline of what were once fine specimens. Without the US in a supporting role, it seems the Europeans would be hard pressed to defend their own territory, let alone manage a bombing campaign against someone else.

But that is only the half of it.

How is the months-long intervention looking from Arab eyes in light of newer developments in the “Arab Spring?”

Sure, the Arab League endorsed the Libyan enterprise in March, but how do we justify the Western intervention in Libya today while Bashir Assad is busy gunning down his citizens with reckless abandon wherever there’s a crowd larger than a quilting bee?

Aren’t the Syrians worthy of a no-fly zone of their own?

Or are their more selfish motives at stake.

Could it be that the Europeans are disproportionately dependent on Libyan oil, while all Syria has to offer is, well, Syrians?

Maybe not our best foot forward as new Arab governments are seated with suspicion and seething resentments?

And while we’re still trying to pin down the exact goal of the Libyan intervention, President Obama has twisted himself into a pretzel trying to characterize US participation in the campaign as anything other than the American military blowing things up on foreign land.

Despite our heavy involvement early  in the campaign, our continued logistical support to the Europeans, and those pesky US drones that are targeting Gaddafi forces, the President apparently does not believe that these activities qualify as “war” or “hostilities” for the purposes of the War Powers Resolution.

POTUS is an admittedly sharp guy, but to get to this very innovative solution, he had to override the legal opinions of distinguished Office of Legal Counsel and the lawyers at the Department of State.

The American military has been blowing up people and infrastructure in another country, or helping others do it, for the past 90 days, and that doesn’t constitute hostilities? 

Really?

This is simply egregious.

And it harms POTUS more by virtue of his own stated view on Executive war making power; at least before he got into the White House.

Here is candidate Obama from 2007, as quoted in the Boston Globe, ‘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.”

 But the real irony here? 

 In that 2007 quote, Obama was talking about Bush administration actions in Iraq – an intervention that was overwhelming approved by both houses of Congress, five months before hostilities.

 Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

In the bigger picture, this is simply a crying shame. 

POTUS all but went out and picked a constitutional battle with Congress on a core issue in the separation of powers by acting as if UN permission for the Libyan operation was more important than that of the US Congress.

Had POTUS asked for the authority at the onset, its hard to believe that Congress would have denied it.

But now, having asked for no authority, having engaged in a conflict of half measures and a policy tantamount to “Three Card Monty,” having ignored the War Powers Act and its timetable – indeed by refusing to accept that we are in our third shooting war, the Administration leaves little option but for Congress to tak action simply to protect its constitutional prerogatives.

Doing so will necessarily undercut our allies, the Libyan rebels and harm our standing in the Middle East and American foreign policy. But the Administration has left little choice, lest Congress simply packs it in and provide a blank check.

It is all so colossally unnecessary.

If Libya was a genuine national security threat or concern to the United States, it was incumbent upon President Obama to make that case to the American people and to Congress. And having secured the proper authority, to prosecute the attack precisely, relentlessly and overwhelmingly, until the objective had been achieved as quickly as possible with as little loss of life and property as necessary.

All of that was within his power, yet he chose not to do it.

Instead, the Administration went to New York for the Resolution, and then the President decamped to Brazil while he loosed American missiles on Libya; as if his proximity from the White House somehow downgraded the significance of our involvement in the conflict.

Now, we are involved in indeterminate hostilities, fighting with insufficient forces, in a middling battle, with unsatisfactory results, for at best a grasping, ambiguous goal, detached from any meaningful strategy for success or strategic advantage.

That is “puny-lateralism” writ large, and it is unacceptable.

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