Courtesy National Parks Service

 

When most Americans hear the name Muammar Gaddafi, their usual reaction is to be repulsed, if they even recognize the name at all. Words like dictator, usurper and tyrant fill the lexicon regarding Gaddafi. Most Americans were slack-jawed when President Barack Obama announced in 2011 that he was going after Gaddafi, the President of Libya. That same year, the Obama administration banged the war drums loudly in NATO sessions, leveraging the immense power of budgetary contributions. This led to the passing of Resolution 1973, which authorized military intervention in Libya. Two days later, the USA issued a no-fly zone and began bombing Libya for months on end.

This was wildly controversial because, constitutionally, the President must receive the approval of Congress before going to war. The House of Representative’s archives state, referencing article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution, that the framers of the Constitution, reluctant to concentrate too much influence in the hands of too few, denied the office of the President the authority to go to war unilaterally. If America was going to survive as a republic, they reasoned, declarations of war “required careful debate in open forums among the public’s representatives.”

The opposite was done in the case of Gaddafi. America followed in the hollow footsteps of capricious and shallow monarchs in the rash rationale regarding the invasion of Libya. Not only did Obama blatantly violate the Constitution, but he also violated the War Powers Act. The statute requires that the Military withdraws from any conflict in a 60-90 day window unless Congress approves the military action. Even President George W. Bush had to receive authorization to go to war in Iraq in 2003.

Obama drafted a 38-page letter full of abstract litigant jargon that tried to prove that his Administration did not violate the act. The report concluded that months-long airstrikes which killed thousands of people, conducted by the U.S. Air Force and NATO in Libya, didn’t constitute “hostilities”. Under this premise, Obama didn’t need Congressional approval. This was a huge unilateral blow to the War Powers Act, which is supposed to check and reign in potential executive unilateralism. 

Moreover, they failed to mention in that letter that Obama had authorized the CIA months before the invasion to supply arms to militant Islamic mercenaries — the moderate terrorists. There is not a rational argument that such covert action is anything but an affront to the American people. It puts U.S. credulity and constitutional precepts at risk when intelligence agencies collude with the executive branch to conduct arms funneling and covert training to terrorists who might be more “moderate” than Gaddafi. These are the same moderate rebels that refused the African Union’s calls for a cease-fire and diplomacy in order to stop the bombings of civilian infrastructure. 

Obama called our intervention “non-kinetic” military support, referencing his handing off of operations to NATO. However, the United States was still leading the logistical, operational and intelligence capacities of this NATO operation — far from “non-kinetic”. How could anyone misconstrue that the U.S. is not at war, violating the War Powers Act, when it was bombing civilian and military infrastructure, giving rebels munitions and training opposition factions in a sovereign country? What if someone did that to the United States — sold weapons to the opposition in our country, funding and training them while droning our cities from a thousand miles away? The U.S. would see that as total warfare and obliterate whichever state was conducting these operations.

Obama’s so-called non-kinetic military support has resulted in open slave trading in Libya. With no legitimate government in control and the U.N.-backed government in Libya being overrun by a former Virginia resident, (Khalifa Haftar, interestingly enough,) no one can stop the calamity. Libya’s UN-backed government has been a farce — as tribal militias have regularly carried out rampant extrajudicial and unlawful killings.” That, in itself, is the retrospective case for Gaddafi staying in power.

In Iraq, it was different. In that case, the US worked to rid the world of a genocidal warmonger who invaded two countries in ten years — all backed with congressional approval and multiple UN resolutions and legal precedents. It looks like the prudence of consulting Congress and requiring their blessing for war was a wise provision on our founders’ part. With Libya, Obama and the defense bureaucracy acted with the unilateralism and shortsightedness of Napoleon. He acted beyond the Constitution, consulting the international community but ignoring our own Congress.

This is part and parcel of the apathy of Americans around wars. Waging a war is something that should be done with the utmost caution and prudence, as our Constitutional founders envisioned. Americans should hold our government fully accountable for the wars it wages — purportedly — on our behalf. When citizens let our government dictate these things unchallenged, it creates the situation we are in now. Because Obama bypassed Congress, he in effect bypassed you, and the entire American body politic. He bombed a country for months on end without consulting his ultimate boss — us.

If the CIA and our defense bureaucracies continue to wage covert wars without American consent, we are allowing unilateral, unchallenged intelligence agencies to subvert the Constitution — which in turn subverts our own civil rights. It would be one thing if these things were done benevolently, but with Libya, our covert invasions have resulted in the absence of any benevolence. Our defense bureaucracies might calculate they need not consult Americans because they know we don’t care enough to bother. Speaking truth to power is the real fulcrum around the functionality of a free society, as ours was set up to be. Dialogue should always precede decision.

As Thomas Jefferson said,An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” Most countries historically have let their leaders run amuck and fight whimsical wars without any debate or discussion. The Americans of Jefferson’s time would have never allowed us to invade other countries without there being a direct threat to the homeland. They had recently broken from a vicious monarchy and were extremely wary of wars. It would’ve taken armed troops on our shores for America to have fought any wars in that era. If Americans are asleep at the wheel, then our leaders know they can conduct these covert operations unabated. The masses are so distracted with the ubiquitous nature of entertainment that taking the time to research what is and what isn’t constitutional is, sadly, not high on the docket of the average Americans mind.

According to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, over a third of 1,013 surveyed adults couldn’t name any of the rights protected under the First Amendment. That is alarming because most Americans can manage to spit out “free speech” when challenged about something controversial they’ve said. In the same study, only a fourth of those surveyed could name all three branches of our Government — 33 percent could not name a single branch.

These are extremely basic questions that are intrinsic to the freedoms that we hold. To protect these rights one presupposes that we know what the rights are. If you don’t know that you have something, how easy is it to have it stolen from you? If a huge chunk of Americans don’t know these absolutely fundamental concepts, it correlates that they will have no clue as to what the War Powers Act is.

Our job as Americans is to be informed and then force our representatives to ensure our position is expressed on Capitol Hill. In a representative Democracy, our congress is merely a reflection of the degree to which we hold them accountable. They are representing our will, which is, as of now, devoid of any real substance. As the CIA carried out the covert operation in Libya, our representatives reflected our will — apathy.

If Americans showed a record of holding leaders accountable, they would have reflected our repudiation proportionally respective to the egregious affront to the Constitution that covert and unilaterally waged wars are. Our founders were aware that imperial ambitions were a byproduct of a powerful country. They experienced it firsthand with the British Empire, so they knew what they were doing when they chose to require the executive get Congressional approval for war. 

John Quincy Adams presciently said of America, “She goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy … The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force … She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

What President Adams said was philosophical at heart. If America involves itself in foreign wars, even benevolently, the entanglements that it would enter would cause it to inadvertently adopt force as its spirit instead of liberty. It reminds one of the Nietzsche quote, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Adams was getting at just that — that in the process of purportedly helping other nations secure liberty, we ourselves are susceptible to become tyrants, by virtue of the fact that we then lend our spirit to something other than our own.

n.rush@dailyutahchronicle.com

@NicholasIRush

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