It is certainly time for the President to address Congress on the subject of what the U.S. is doing in Libya. Under the 1973 War Powers Act, the president is required to formally notify Congress of US military operations and receive approval of any operation that goes longer than 60 days.
Our government – along with France, Canada, Britain, and other countries – first launched attacks against Gaddafi’s forces on March 19th in order to halt a military onslaught against a large Libyan city, and in support of the rebels. March 19th, – okay, it’s definitely been 60 days. Barack Obama needs to check in with Congress – and with us, the American people.
Even though western powers were urged to intervene against Gaddafi by many Libyans and the Arab League, and even though the United Nations sanctioned the action, and even though the left and progressives were / are split on whether the US should have acted – we in America have our own internal rules. And one of them is the War Powers Resolution, passed 38 years ago, as the Viet Nam war wound down. It requires that after two months of any military action by our government, the head guy talks to Congress. That’s just the way it is. Just because not that many presidents – or congresses for that matter – have followed it, it doesn’t mean it’s not on the books.
And right now, Congress is all astir because both its right and left wings are planning resolutions against what we’re doing in Libya, partially based on the War Powers Act – and they come up for a vote tomorrow, June 3rd!
A lot of things are going on right now, we know. More high level defections from the Gaddafi regime, continued NATO bombings, and a slow, slow advance by the rebels – so slow it seems like a stalemate. A high-level attempt by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa to mediate a solution has just failed. And yesterday, NATO extended its bombing campaign for another 90 days.
Meanwhile, Russia is telling the West that it cannot intervene in Syria “or elsewhere” as it did in Libya. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the U.S. and European nations in a press conference held on June 1:
“It is not in the interests of anyone to send messages to the opposition in Syria or elsewhere that if you reject all reasonable offers we will come and help you as we did in Libya. It’s a very dangerous position.”
It was just last week in France at the Group of Eight summit, that Obama and and French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to help forge a resolution of the Libyan situation. Russian understands that the deal has to be acceptable to the Libyan rebels, among others. And in general, Russia has stepped up diplomatic efforts to help negotiate a settlement- a settlement that would persuade Gaddafi to step down and end NATO military operations.
On the American home front, back on May 20th President Obama had urged leaders of Congress in a letter to adopt a pending Senate resolution to “confirm that the Congress supports the U.S. mission in Libya.” Just today at the White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “We have consulted with Congress every step of the way since we have initiated this policy.” The president has “done exactly what he said he would do” when he announced U.S. participation in the NATO-led campaign, Carney said.
That attitude and tone has not halted the bombardment of the President by Congress, from both the right and the left.
The leader of the House of Representatives, House Speaker John Boehner, will, on tomorrow – Friday, June 3rd -, allow two votes against the Administration’s military actions in Libya.
The first is a resolution written by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that condemns Obama’s actions in Libya as illegalunder the War Powers Act, and it would demand that the U.S. stop aiding NATO in its mission in Libya within 15 days. Many in Congress have problems with that very short timeline, and Kucinich’s effort is not expected to pass a final vote.
The second resolution is one written by Boehner himself that is both designed to undermine the more harsh Kucinich measure, and score political points. Huffington Post reported:
The Boehner resolution borrows a great deal from an amendment drafted by a Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, that passed the House 416-5 on May 26. Both measures specifically bar the administration from putting American troops on the ground unless it is to rescue a member “of the Armed Forces from imminent danger,” but Boehner’s goes a step further, demanding that the White House explain its rationale for intervening in Libya in mid-March.
If passed, Boehner’s measure will request that the White House present Congress with the reasoning for intervening in Libya within two weeks, but does not set any penalty if the administration fails to comply.
Apparently, there’s all kinds of partisanship wrangling going on in Congress. Some Republicans want to embarrass Obama by voting for Kucinich’s resolution, as they don’t believe their party should appear to be aiding the White House by voting the Kucinich resolution down – in favor of a measure by Boehner. But other Republicans feel that by voting for the more drastic measure – sponsored by a very liberal Democrat – it could send the wrong message to foreign partners. One GOP leader said, “I don’t think we should be sending a message to the world that because we’re mad at the president that we would take it out on our allies and others.”
Democrats are defending the President’s position. Howard Berman, a California Representative and the highest Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the passage of the Kucinich resolution would strengthen Gaddafi and his ability to keep power. He said “a strengthened Qaddafi” would threaten the new governments of Tunisia and Egypt, where popular revolutions toppled authoritarian regimes earlier this year.
The Arab Spring continues, and it’s getting very deadly both in Yemen and Syria. The US has been very reluctant to push its military might around in Yemen because it has acted as a client state and the regime aided the US fight against terrorism. Although the tone from Washington has changed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently warning the Yemen leader about the violence and loss of life, it does appears that a near civil war is about to erupt.
The situation in Syria – some British diplomats have called it “worst than Libya” – is equally as perilous, and a tinderbox of explosive forces – as we note in the warning from Russia about the West getting involved. The recent video gone viral on the internet of a young boy tortured and killed by government thugs has spurred even more resistance by civilians – who are increasingly arming themselves.
It also should be noted that, unlike the situation earlier in Libya, there is no Arab League desperate request for intervention into either country.
But back in the good ol’ US of A, as our economy sputters, and our teachers and firefighters are getting laid off, we wary of war. Solid majorities want us out of Afghanistan – now. There’s another resolution asking the president to adjust his timeline for withdrawal floating around Congress.
Yet President Karzai of Afghanistan – our corrupt puppet – just two days ago warned NATO and the US against killing any more civilians in air strikes. His language was very blunt and he said NATO forces were on the verge of being considered occupiers rather than allies. Karzai said in Kabul:
“If they continue their attacks on our houses, then their presence will change from a force that is fighting against terrorism to a force that is fighting against the people of Afghanistan. And in that case, history shows what Afghans do with trespassers and with occupiers.”
Karzai didn’t declare exactly what actions his government would or could take, but did say that Afghanistan “has a lot of ways of stopping it.”
Even though Karzai has used such language before, this statement coupled with recent actions by his government, threaten to strain his government’s relations with the US and NATO even more. Of course, some in the US would welcome this strain as a nail in the coffin of our continued military presence there. The New York Times reported:
Civilian casualties, as well as the night raids and airstrikes that often lead to them, have been a bitter source of contention between NATO forces and the Afghan president for years. But Mr. Karzai’s latest statements, coming both before and after an airstrike on Saturday that killed several civilians, most of them women and children, have been laced with more definitive terms.
On Saturday, Mr. Karzai ordered his Defense Ministry to take charge of the nighttime raids from the coalition forces in his most aggressive attempt yet to stem the use of such operations, which have angered Afghans for years for their intrusiveness and the civilian casualties they frequently cause.
Then after an airstrike on Saturday night in the Now Zad district of Helmand Province, the president issued a “last” warning to NATO forces that airstrikes that ended in civilian casualties must stop.
With friends like that, who needs enemies? Yeah, let’s get out of Afghanistan. Not to mention Iraq where we still have 50,000 troops. Or Pakistan ….
Yet Americans are tired of war. Whether we agreed or not on the initial US military efforts that halted the slaughter of thousands of civilians in Libya, it is now time to follow the requirements of the War Powers Act and figure out what we’re still doing in Libya. Heck, most of us may still want to see us there. But the Prez needs to check in with Congress – partisan as they are – because it’s time.
This is because we believe in transparency of government and because we – still – believe in democracy.