June 16, 2011

A travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham as a justification for an illegal war

Sometimes when I seek consolation from some of the more egregious disappointments of the Obama Administration (and there are many to choose from), I cheer myself up with the idea that the real problem is that President Obama and his team are just not very good at their jobs. Admittedly, this belongs in the "as good as it gets" category, but it does offer some relief from the idea that Obama is moving us closer to a police state, or gutting the Bill of Rights, or undermining the rule of law, et cetera on purpose. It's easier just to believe that he doesn't know what he's doing. He's overwhelmed by the job, pushed around by seasoned in-fighters, and people keep asking him to make decisions about hopelessly complex situations when all he really wants to do is smile and be a figurehead. Now that we have the leisure time to consider his entire career, maybe we should just admit (even though we're agreeing with the Right Wing pundits) that, in fact, there was absolutely nothing in his background to prepare him for a very demanding, complicated managerial position. Nothing whatsoever, in fact. Here's how Andrew Levine, a think tank scholar, summed it up on Counterpunch:

"President is a real job, but Obama has been and will likely remain awful at it. His administration has been a disaster. I should qualify that: it has been a disaster for all but the "investor class," the military brass (who boss their Commander-in-Chief around shamelessly) and other pillars of the National Security State, and for some of Washington's most nefarious lobbies (who boss him around more shamelessly still)."
This is more or less the consensus tone one hears from the educated and informed elements of Obama's "base." They don't know what else to say. His reversals from campaign rhetoric are so extreme and obvious that there's really no other way to put it. Nothing is really going right in this country, he didn't Change a thing, and there's not much reason for Hope that he will. He's probably also the odds-on favorite for reelection; this is a measure of the extent to which the country has become completely inured to incompetence and failure. By 2016 it is very likely that the United States will have endured sixteen consecutive years of incompetent leadership.

I try not to think about these things, but current events keep intruding on my oblivion. This "War Powers" situation in Libya represents another fiasco for Team Obama. The 1973 War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress over Richard Nixon's veto, was intended to be a limitation on the power of the executive to wage war unilaterally without the authorization or consultation of Congress. The War Powers Resolution is itself a dubious end-run around the clear language of the Constitution; the power to declare war resides in Congress, period. However, although the United States is always at war, Congress never declares war, at least not since December 8, 1941, so I guess we should be thankful for at least this modicum (the Resolution) of "people's" control on the involvement of American forces in foreign hostilities.

The language of the War Powers Resolution isn't really that complicated. I generally prefer to consult the language of legislation itself rather than the usually inaccurate gloss placed on the words by Washington's punditocracy; that way, you at least have a chance at clear understanding. The operative section, in my view is this:

(a) Written report; time of submission; circumstances necessitating submission; information reported
In the absence of a declaration of war, in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced—
(1) into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances;
(2) into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat, except for deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces;

Not later than 48 hours after such an action, the President must "report" to Congress on why the hell the United States is in another war. Even the 48-hour delay depends on the emergency nature of the action, such as an invasion of the United States or a direct attack on its international assets (such as a military base). The Libyan campaign did not even meet this threshold condition; Obama could have easily "reported" to Congress before the United States started bombing and launching drone attacks on Gaddafi's forces. He did not do so. He started the war, then he sought to establish excuses for (a) not reporting the war in a timely fashion and (b) failing to seek Congressional approval within the requisite 60-day period.

Ten members of Congress, led by Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, have sued Obama in the federal district court for the District of Columbia. The allegations lay down this predicate for the case:

The Libyan War

31. On March 19, 2011, at approximately 3:00 p.m. EDT, President Obama ordered U.S. forces to attack the armed government forces of Libya.
32. Before attacking the government of Libya, President Obama did not seek or receive a declaration of war from Congress.
33. Before attacking the government of Libya, President Obama did not seek or receive approval of Congress in any form.
34. Subsequent to the start of military operations in Libya, the Obama Administration stated that, as a policy, the President did not consider himself bound to consult with Congress or receive its approval for military operations like those ordered in Libya.
35. U.S operations in Libya now include all of the classic elements of a war, including but not limited to close combat support, bombing of Libya’s capital and key Libyan military assets, and commitment of U.S. personnel to ground operations to assist the rebel forces in the Libyan civil war.
36. The cost to the United States of the Libyan War now exceeds $750 million and has resulted in the loss of U.S. aircraft in combat operations.
A lawsuit, of course, is not really the way to deal with the issue. The court is very likely to rule that the question is inherently political and subject to Separation of Powers, and that Congress can simply remove all funding and put an end to this war. However, that would involve taking a position instead of asking a court to take it for them.

Belatedly, to say the least, the Obama Administration is now contending, in a report addressed to Congress, that the Libyan war is not actually a war; we're just using American bombers, jets and missiles to attack Gaddafi in Libya, and maybe supporting the rebels with troops, and maybe, sure, also helping the United Nations out with carrying on this non-war by refueling their bombers in mid-air, doing reconnaissance, and a lot of other stuff you do in a war, although this one is not a war, because, you know, we don't even have any casualties (yet). These arguments would no doubt surprise an actual American bomber pilot flying missions over Tripoli. To him, it all would seem very much like "hostilities."

The arguments of the Obama Administration reek of desperate flop-sweat. I would prefer an argument where Obama claimed that he did report in a timely way, but one of his (non-rescue) pet dogs ate the report and he forgot about it, because he was out creating jobs, or maybe having dinner at Daniel with Lloyd Blankfein. You know, something credible. It's pretty demeaning to armed forces personnel to claim they can fly sorties over hostile terrain in complete safety, so much so that it's not even a "war." American armed forces have been "introduced" into Libyan air space while "equipped for combat;" this is a basis for a requirement of Congressional authorization separate from the "hostilities" subsection. This is how you read a statute - logically, assuming all the words mean something. In fact, the Obama Administration also loses on the "hostilities" argument, but a simple reference to the "air space" language puts the matter completely to rest. The "justification" is simply ludicrous.

Still, I actually don't think Obama is attempting to establish a new precedent for unfettered presidential discretion in the use of the armed forces. I think he and his inner circle just don't know what they're doing, can't read statutes, and can't read the signs of opposition from Republicans and dovish Democrats, who are now jumping on what is clearly an impeachable offense. This situation is a complete fiasco, right out in plain view where a moment's reflection shows you the Obama Administration is pathetically out of its depth.

It will become worse, of course, as the Obama Administration messes up the response to all this opposition by creating new legal and constitutional problems. I guess as we resume the Depression (which was never really gone in the first place), it will be something to distract us.

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