Friday, March 18, 2011

Many Questions; War Is Not The Answer

There are many questions about the parameters of the broadly worded U.N. Security Council resolution to take “all necessary measures” to “protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” in Libya and about our country's role.  And, so far, there are not nearly enough answers to justify U.S. involvement.

First, the resolution portends a far greater commitment than a no fly zone, which was already problematic.  As the Times reports, the language "was written in sweeping terms to allow for a wide range of actions, including strikes on air-defense systems and missile attacks from ships."  According to defense expert Robert Chesney, it is not only air power that has been authorized.  “Foreign occupation forces” are barred, but, as Chesney points out, this prohibition does not include all ground forces, only "occupation" forces.

Given this broad mandate for action, what happens next?  While Qaddafi has announced a cease fire in response to the U.N. resolution, it is hard to imagine that he is simply going to abide by it or allow the rebels to keep the land they currently control.  As Steve Benen says:  "Even if a cease-fire holds, it's unclear what kind of agreement would (or could) be reached between Qaddafi and the rest of the country that no longer intends to live under his rule. Does the West intend to allow Qaddafi to stay in power . . . and what happens if/when he resists?"

Spencer Ackerman quotes defense expert Andrew Exum, who questions whether there is authorization to continue to "press the advantage of the rebels until [Qaddafi's] government falls?"  Exum also wonders whether there will  be a long civil war, and if we will take sides.  As Adam Serwer asks, do we really know who the rebels are and what they ultimately want?  Massimo Calabresi at Time asserts that while it is possible rebel leaders could align themselves with us, "there has never been a powerful central state in Libya, and the country is split along tribal lines. There is little of the civil society or established middle class . . .  of more developed countries that have peacefully made the transition to democracy from authoritarianism."  In addition, part of the country that has fueled the uprising is where "much of Libya's Islamic radicalism" has been harbored.  The bottom line is that no one can predict what will emerge from a regime change.

A more fundamental question is whether we should be intervening at all?  Is Qaddafi actually committing war crimes with widespread atrocities and mass killing of innocent civilians?  While that would constitute humanitarian grounds for intervention, as Massimo Calabresi states, the Administration has so far refused to provide such evidence and "most of the reports coming out of Libya appear to indicate that the violence is between armed rebels and forces loyal to Qaddafi." 

And, finally, there is that old thorny question of separation of powers. The Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power "to declare war."  While the president does have the power to act in self-defense, Qaddafi's use of force is not a domestic threat to the United States.  So, isn't President Obama required to get explicit authorization from Congress before instituting military action?

With so many unanswered questions it is deeply troubling that the United States is about to embark on yet another military action.  "All we really know right now," as Adam Serwer concludes, "is that America is destined to own the outcome in Libya."

[Related posts:  Libyan Intervention Won't Fly]


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