By Morgan Norval l March 28, 2011
In 2007 while George W. Bush was president and Joe Biden was a U.S. Senator from Delaware contemplating a campaign for the Democratic Party’s 2008 presidential nomination, Iran’s nuclear weapons program was a major foreign policy issue in Washington. What to do about the Iranian push to develop its own nuclear weapons gave birth to numerous suggestions to stop their program, including bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities, which would launch a war against Iran.
With those types of rumors swirling around Washington, Biden emphatically stated: “I want to make it clear. And I made it clear to the President that if he takes this nation to war with Iran without congressional approval, I will make it my business to impeach him. That’s a fact. That’s a fact.”
Today, Vice-President Biden has not uttered a single word about his boss taking the United States to war against Libya, a country that gave up the quest of developing nuclear weapons and poses no threat to American interests either at home or abroad. Granted, Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is a mean, nasty person but so are the leaders of Sudan, Zimbabwe and China, to name just three of a long list of dictators. Search the roster of members of the UN’s General Assembly and you’ll find other similar despots. Biden’s silence, however, is deafening.
The same year of Biden’s outburst against President Bush, then presidential candidate Barack Obama, who was serving in the U.S. Senate at the time responded in an interview with the Boston Globe saying: “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.” Both Obama and Biden obviously have short memories and by their silence impose an implicit double standard based on crass partisanship rather than U.S. national security interests.
As President of the United States, Barack Obama, has once again bowed to foreign interests, this time at the high alter of the United Nations.
Unequivocally, Biden’s boss failed to seek congressional approval to launch bombing attacks on Libyan targets for the purpose of enforcing a UN-imposed “no-fly zone,” which includes placing American special forces in harm’s way on the ground in Libya to guide air operations. Obama thumbed his nose at the U.S. Constitution, as well as the U.S. Congress and instead turned to his internationalist pals at the United Nations for permission to wage war on Libya. The internationalists came through for Obama on March 17th by a vote of ten to zero, with five abstentions. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized the use of military force to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya.
The UN Security Council is made up of fifteen members, five permanent members, commonly referred to as the “Perm Five” – the U.S., England, France, China and Russia – and ten non-permanent members chosen from among the UN General Assembly. A “no” vote by any of the five permanent members is considered a vote to kill a resolution. Voting in favor of the resolution: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Gabon, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, and of the “Perm Five” members, France, England and the United States. Five nations, Brazil, Germany, India, China and Russia abstained from voting on the resolution. Not a single Security Council member voted against the resolution. In short, of the “Perm Five” Security Council members – those that really count, China and Russia, both abstained.
Make no mistake about it bombing another country is an act of war against that country no matter what Orwellian term the White House chooses to use. A “kinetic military action” is nothing more than a euphemism for “war”.
“So I think what we’re doing is we’re enforcing a UN Security Council resolution. We’re taking — we’re undertaking a military operation to protect the people of Libya,” said Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes, at the Wednesday, March 23rd White House Press Gaggle aboard Air Force One. “Obviously that involves kinetic military action, particularly on the front end. But again, the nature of our commitment is that we are not getting into an open-ended war, a land invasion in Libya.”
Representative Don Manzullo of Illinois, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told theRockford Register Star, “The president completely bypassed Congress on this. Speaker John Boehner was upset. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee found out about the Tomahawk missile attack just a few minutes before the sirens went off in Libya that the missiles were on their way.” Manzullo said the president is in conflict with the War Powers Act, “which says that only if the United States is in imminent danger of attack can the president deploy forces without the consent of Congress.”
Bypassing congressional approval and placing the UN Charter ahead of the U.S. Constitution is a blatant surrender of U.S. national sovereignty over the nation’s war making powers. Obama’s Libyan war is illegal.
“It is impossible for Congress to take its war powers and give it to the UN,” said Lou Fisher, former researcher with the Congressional Research Service and an expert on war powers. “Other than defensive actions—and there’s no defensive actions here—this has to be done by Congress,” Fisher said.
Ben Stein, a columnist for the American Spectator asks: “But when did we amend the Constitution to declare that the United Nations had control over our military? When did we abolish the part of the Constitution that said Congress had the right to declare war?”
I know of no amendment that is pending in either the House or the Senate nor seeking ratification in any of the 50 state legislatures that would shift control of U.S. war-making power to the United Nations. Yet, the Obama administration has unilaterally encouraged and allowed the UN to embroil us in a war in Libya. The attack on Libya is an act of war pure and simple. This action weakens the concept of American sovereignty and empowers the international community at the expense of American independence.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, in a March 23rd letter said in response to President Obama’s unilateral actions to take America to war:
“But I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission. . .At the same time, by contrast, it appears your Administration has consulted extensively on these same matters with foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League…A United Nations Security Council resolution does not substitute for a U.S. political and military strategy.”
Obama’s rhetoric to “get rid of Gaddafi” demonstrates what the 20th Century German theorist, Karl Schmitt, claims that any war to be just and punitive, as the Libyan conflict claims to be launched on humanitarian reasons, morally disqualifies his adversary putting him outside the pale. This enables the one launching the punitive war to settle comfortably and assuredly into an overwhelming attitude of moral superiority and consider his enemy—Gaddafi—as inferior and evil. As such, the enemy—Gaddafi—no longer has any right except to be treated as a criminal. This puts Obama, the U.S. and the UN on a slippery slope where there are no longer any limits to what can be done to Gaddafi and his supporters up to and including a war of annihilation.
While the West hasn’t waged any war of annihilation since World War II, the demonizing of Gaddafi by Obama and the international community puts that possibility into play, especially if Gaddafi survives, stays in power and extracts revenge on those who rebelled against him.
It is not nice to poke your nose—intervene if you will—into your neighbor’s business. In times past, intervention by states into another state’s business also carried that stigma and was considered politically harmful. Political theorists from Hedley Bull to Lassa Openheim have stated: “Intervention is dictatorial interference by a state in the affairs of another state for purposes of maintaining or altering the actual conditions of things.”
University of Paris professor Frederic Gros points out in his 2010 book, States of Violence: An Essay on the End of War:
“. . . we want on the contrary to do nothing but intervene. The scandal would be to make war. To intervene in Iraq or elsewhere is not to make war on it. . . . Again, war pitted two equal enemies against one another, recognizing their adversity. Those who intervene, on the other hand, are not of the same level as those they fight against. There is an order of things, a possible harmony, and then there are the troublemakers, the instigators of chaos. Those who intervene place themselves at the service of this order to neutralize those who disrupt it. They are the agents of the world order. There are no longer singular enemies standing opposite one another but agents of this universal order against localized makers of disturbance. Intervention presupposes the fiction of a community of values and an order that suits everyone.”
Obama and his internationalist allies are zealously pursuing this “fiction of a community” and slapping down a nasty creature like Gaddafi is part and parcel of their sticking their noses into other people’s business to pursue their fictional dream of a universal order, coincidentally, to be run by them and at the expense of our constitutional order.
Obama and his supporters are defending his Libyan action by saying it is in support of a UN resolution. The UN is a body composed of nations, especially in the General Assembly, where many are ruled by thugs and despots. It is the same UN, incidentally, where Libya until recently sat on its Human Rights Council. And to make matters worse, one of the so-called Libyan rebel leaders protected under the umbrella of the “no-fly zone” is Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi who fought against the U.S. effort in Afghanistan when the U.S. pushed the Taliban and al-Qaeda into Pakistan in 2002. One wonders how American pilots whose participation in enforcing the “no-fly zone” feel about helping and protecting a guy that just a few years ago was trying to kill their fellow citizens?
First and foremost, we must make clear that United States foreign policy and our decisions to use military force are totally independent of the United Nations. The Constitution grants Congress the exclusive power to declare war and gives the president the right to use military force in his capacity as commander-in-chief. To surrender our sovereignty to any international organization is both foolish and criminal. Biden in 2007 spoke of impeaching President Bush. Four years later, one wonders if Biden’s own words will come back to haunt him?
Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to