Friday, June 24, 2011

Libya: Lots Of Lying, Not Much Else From DC

Caption: A Spanish air force F/A-18 Hornet at an airfield in Italy, March, 2011. At the time, it was participating in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military action against Libya.

Image credit: DVIDSHUB

There were a couple of events of note that occurred today in Washington, DC, concerning Libya. The first was a pair of votes in Congress on whether U.S. participation in the United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and "civilian protection" missions should continue:
In a confused message to President Obama, the House on Friday voted down both a bill to defund U.S. involvement in the Libya mission and a measure that would have granted the mission Congressional approval for one year.

All week, support had been building in the House for repudiating Obama's handling of the war with most concerns focused on his failure to consult Congress and gain its approval before authorizing airstrikes. But that movement fell short of sending the harshest rebuke at Congress' disposal -- cutting off funds -- although members registered their disapproval of the war and Obama's handling of it by failing to give it the Congressional seal of approval.

House Defeats Effort To Yank Funds For Libya War And To Authorize the Mission
If you, like me, wonder how Congress can vote down an authorization of military action, yet refuse to stop paying for it, you might be surprised to learn that there might actually be a logical explanation. It turns out the bill to withdraw funding was, shall we say, less than it was advertised to be. From a statement by Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has stated his opposition to our military action in Libya publicly:
Mr. Speaker I rise to oppose this legislation, which masquerades as a limitation of funds for the president’s war on Libya but is in fact an authorization for that very war. According to HR 2278, the US military cannot be involved in NATO’s actions in Libya, with four important exceptions. If this passes, for the first time the president would be authorized to use US Armed Forces to engage in search and rescue; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; aerial refueling; and operational planning against Libya. Currently, absent an authorization or declaration of war, these activities are illegal. So instead of ending the war against Libya, this bill would legalize nearly everything the president is currently doing there.

Rep. Ron Paul: Statement on HR 2278
Other than bombing missions that are not carried out in support of search and rescue missions, I don't see that this bill would forbid any of the actions U.S. NATO forces are performing now. As that photo of the Spanish F/A-18 shows, we don't need to be the ones dropping the bombs. We can just make sure those who do have the bombs and the fuel.

So, that's why it failed. One might ask why House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Caucus leadership let this thing come to a vote. David Dayen has a theory:
I’m at a loss to explain why Boehner would hold this vote if he didn’t have the numbers to carry it. Now Congress looks impotent and useless, and the story becomes about vote-counting instead of war powers. The Senate wasn’t going to pass a defunding bill anyway, but now they really have no pressure to do so. And while Congress struggles to determine its role in Libya, the President will continue to authorize military involvement. More importantly, the doctrine that a President can unilaterally authorize war and go around Congress through claims that engagement that puts no American lives at risk does not constitute “hostilities” goes unchecked. This sets a dangerous precedent for the future, especially given the trajectory of reliance on drones and other robots and shadow wars.

I will entertain the notion that the House Speaker is fine with all that, and put up a vote on defunding that he knew would fail, to remove consequences from the executive in the future. It’s certainly a possibility.

Boehner Bungles Libya Vote, Defunding Defeated in House
Despite the title of his article, he thinks it was deliberate, or that Boehner just didn't care one way or the other. I think either of those is a viable explanation. Things will almost certainly not go well in Libya, and the failure there would be another campaign issue against Obama and the Democrats. I'm also sure that the GOP isn't any more interested in bucking the defense industry than the Democrats are. Failing to pass the refusal to fund Libya gives the GOP a ready-made campaign issue, and avoids honking off an important source of campaign funds.

Sadly, in our nation's capital, this is the way to win.

So, as in times past, having Congress in control of the other political party isn't preventing a President from committing us to an unnecessary and unpopular war. Go figure.

The other Libya-related development was this little bombshell from Foreign Policy:
The top U.S. admiral involved in the Libya war admitted to a U.S. congressman that NATO forces are trying to kill Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. The same admiral also said he anticipated the need for ground troops in Libya after Qaddafi falls, according to the lawmaker.

House Armed Services Committee member Mike Turner (R-OH) told [Foreign Policy Institute publication] The Cable that U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the NATO Joint Operations Command in Naples, Italy, told him last month that NATO forces are actively targeting and trying to kill Qaddafi, despite the fact that the Obama administration continues to insist that "regime change" is not the goal and is not authorized by the U.N. mandate authorizing the war.

Top U.S. admiral admits we are trying to kill Qaddafi
Just for the record, the most amazing thing about this was that a flag officer in the U.S. military admitted this. Given how often NATO has targeted Gaddafi's various quarters and compounds, it shouldn't be surprising that this was an objective. One could make the case that these were command and control centers, and thus legitimate military targets, but the sheer number of attacks would tend to disprove that notion.

Still, it's yet another example of our government lying to us and the rest of the world about its intentions. When you're used to hearing lies from a group of people, it's hard to take anything they say to justify their actions seriously.

Which is an observation that we can once again apply to both Congress and the President.

(h/t to commenter shekissesfrogs at FireDogLake for finding that statement by Rep. Paul.)

UPDATE (June 25): The lying continued into the night. The Foreign Policy Institute's The Cable writes:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to put lipstick on the pig of today's admonishment of the administration by Congress, saying that she was "gratified that the House has decisively rejected efforts to limit funding" for the intervention. She was referring to the House's rejection of a bill put forth by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) that would have shut off the spigot of funds for most, but not all, U.S. military operations in Libya.

The vote failed 180-238 - but, in fact, there were more than enough lawmakers to pass the measure. Of the 149 Democrats who stuck with the president, up to 70 of them are totally opposed to the Libya intervention and want to see it completely defunded as soon as possible. They voted "no" on the Rooney's bill because they thought it was too weak, did not cut off all funds, and implicitly authorized the intervention.

Despite vote, majority of Congressmen want to defund the Libya war
The article's title says it all: what this was about was that the bill that the House "leadership" decided to offer was too weak. The war would have continued, just with someone else dropping the bombs. We would have been there in every other sense.

That Obama Administration apologists suggest otherwise is utterly beside the point.

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