Cover Story

A world turned upside down

"A world turned upside down" Continued...

Issue: "Upside down," April 9, 2011

Then abruptly, and even as thousands of U.S. military forces were called to assist in Japan, the administration about-faced. On March 16 U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice not only announced support for the no-fly zone, but said military action should go beyond air cover to protect Libyans-­suggesting a "regime change" of the kind endorsed by the Bush administration and Congress in Iraq, yet derided by Obama. Late the following day, the UN Security Council passed the no-fly zone resolution.

Subsequent airstrikes over Libya included over 100 Tomahawk missiles-a number not dropped since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the subsequent onslaught of firepower that included French, British, U.S. forces, and four warplanes from Qatar, regime change indeed appeared the goal. Missiles struck Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli (to say he escaped seems redundant). Arab leaders called out the Western powers for lack of strategy. "What we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians," said Moussa.

Republicans pounced on the administration's hard-to-cipher response. Presidential hopeful and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the intervention "opportunistic amateurism without planning or professionalism." House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, offered support for the no-fly zone but warned, "Before any further military commitments are made, the administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission." In a letter to the president March 23, he noted, "by contrast, it appears your Administration has consulted extensively on these same matters with foreign entities such as the United Nations and the Arab League."

Democrats, too, found it hard to go along with Obama, who as a candidate in 2007 had declared, "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

"In the absence of a credible, direct threat to the United States and its allies or to our valuable national interests, what excuse is there for not seeking congressional approval of military action?" asked Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. "I think it is wrong and a usurpation of power and the fact that prior presidents have done it is not an excuse."

At the White House and later traveling in South America, Obama found himself having to court Arab allies by phone in order to keep them on board with the latest U.S. military assault in their region. The problem for them: whether they would be abandoned by the same White House if (or when) protesters reached critical mass in their own streets.

The Libyan incursion seems to be based on little intelligence as to whether the rebels now receiving U.S. support are any better than the tyrant they hope to overthrow. Yet the United States has committed assets in the region to one conflict among many, and possibly a lesser one-given potential for a proxy battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Bahrain and Yemen, continued instability in Egypt, and bloodshed from North Africa to Syria. The winner so far is the UN, which now can claim the White House as an administrative arm. The loser is the U.S. Congress, which according to the Constitution has the power to declare war-and isn't taking lightly the lack of consultation.


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