The crisis in Libya has developed at an astonishing pace. Now we are in a third concurrent war, to use the apt phrase of Virginia senatorial candidate Jamie Radtke. She seems one of the very few to have raised the constitutional questions anywhere on the national scene, though to my mind her questions are decisive:
President Obama’s decision to commit America to a third concurrent war has two serious flaws. First, the president has committed American troops to battle without the authorization of Congress. And second, Libya does not present a security threat to the United States, and we have no business being a part of this military intervention.
Could you imagine the firestorm that would have ensued, had President George W. Bush invaded Libya without Congressional authorization? I suspect in that case the revolutions might not have been limited to the Arab world. For Bush to have taken this action would have been dead wrong, and it remains so today.
It is the United States Congress, not the United Nations Security Council, which should determine if we commit the American military to war. A United Nations vote does not supersede a Congressional vote.
President Obama appears to have heeded the counsel of two groups -- American conservatives and the Arab League. Perhaps he figured that if these two can agree on anything, there must be some truth to it, and that if France agrees as well, the level of certainty approaches the mathematical. North Koreans, Sudanese, Burmese, and Zimbabweans can only envy such political clout; their humanitarian crises have been every bit as grave or more, but no wars for them. Not yet, anyway.
Not only did the war come quickly, but so did the recriminations. Within hours of the first strikes, both of Obama's counselors showed their true colors. Members of the Arab League signaled that they were reconsidering their support for the operation, and American conservatives began condemning Obama for his weakness and indecision.
It seems clear to me at least that the Arab League never wanted the West to intervene at all. What they really wanted was a chance to kick the United States for something -- or for anything, rather. If they couldn't kick us for inaction, as they'd counted on, they'd happily kick us for delivering precisely what they asked for. Never mind how we warned them that a "no-fly zone" entails civilian casualties, as do essentially all methods of war. Theirs was a punch we should have seen coming, because yet another popular revolution in an Arab country is the very last thing that most Arab League members want.
American conservatives, faced with a swift, unconstitutional, undeclared war -- led by a Democratic president! -- are forced to run to the right of the right of the right. Again, perhaps what Republicans wanted was not a war, per se, but just a reason to kick Obama. Again, for something -- or for anything.
Given the number of conservatives indulging in me-tooism, hit-em-harderism, and I'd-do-it-betterism, it's clear they're flummoxed. None of these is a compelling political message. Conservatives never imagined Obama, like Napoleon or Bismarck, outflanking them on the right. And getting France on board was the coup de grâce, naturally, because none dare seem weak where France is strong. (Could we sign up Obama as a field commander? He possibly missed his calling.)
So -- what is our real national interest here? It's not that we have no interest whatsoever in the people of Libya or their revolution. I wish them all the best, as I think everyone should. I hope that they succeed in throwing out their dictator. It would be hard to do worse than Gaddafi, and it's hard not to cheer as he finally faces his people's wrath.
But it has never been American policy to aid all rebels everywhere against all unjust governments. We have extraordinarily pressing tasks right now elsewhere in the world, including the completion of our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now also providing humanitarian relief to Japan, a close ally that has just suffered a horrific disaster. While American intervention in Libya has proved a serious embarrassment to dictators abroad, and to the president's political opponents at home, our true national interests -- and our Constitution -- should have directed us against it. This was a war we shouldn't have chosen.